Where Next for Big Data? A look at the ways in which big data analysis might shape the future

If we look at the core elements of big data – volume, variety and velocity - the future looks to be headed in one direction only: more volume, greater variety and increased velocity as more devices come online, more transactions are captured, more personal data provided and more organisations learn to capitalize upon the data created within their business ecosystem. New breakthroughs in technology and the adoption of technologies complementary to big data will drive these increases, not least the ‘internet of things’.

The rise of the machines

There is a lot of talk about the ‘internet of things’ – the idea that one day most things will be connected to the internet. From our fridges creating information about replenishment and talking directly to our online shopping accounts and supermarket loyalty schemes, to the anticipated growth in wearable technology such as smart watches and smart glasses which will relay information on location and behaviors. All of this will create valuable data.

The increasingly powerful smartphones in our pockets will have the power to change the world around us, from the offers we see advertised in supermarkets as our past purchasing history and other behaviors stored on the phone – such as the movies we watch, the apps we use and the places we visit – create a near faultless picture of us as a consumer to the ways in which our banks tailor offers specifically to our lifestyles.

Our cars will transmit ever-more information, creating better deals on insurance and reducing instances of expensive repairs, removing cost from maintaining a car. Our home entertainment systems will intuitively learn more about the content we want and when we want it. What we are prepared to pay for now and what we are willing to wait for to get free.

Our world, only better

The world will become tailored towards our wants and needs. Some changes will be imperceptible to the naked eye or the rational mind but much will be driven and governed by big data. It might just feel that things work a little better or more efficiently but behind the scenes the analysis of big data will be working harder than ever to shape all the moving parts of our physical and experiential environment.

Take transport. Anecdotally many Londoners claimed during the 2012 Olympics that public transport, a much feared weak link in London’s Olympic offering, was faultless for the duration of the games. This is not because issues did not arise but because every scenario was catered for and solutions existed ready to be deployed at the moment of need.

That was thanks to many years or planning but with the analysis of big data, from the analysis of passenger flow into transport hubs, via pedestrian routes and terminus points such as major airports, to likely weather conditions and related disruptions, to real-time location based monitoring of replacement bus services and traffic conditions on alternate transport routes, that level of service is replicable, consistently on a daily basis.

Even scenarios around unforeseeable incidents and the indicators they might be about to occur – such as analysis of data from sensors along water pipes pre-empting or forewarning of a burst water main that could close a road – can be modelled into scenario planning or allow for a fix to be applied before the issue occurs. This will require investment but as metropolitan areas around the world compete for inward investment in a global economy it would be a mistake to overlook the long term benefits.

Big data means safer communities

Law enforcement is one area where major change can happen and we are already seeing the seeds of unprecedented transformation being sewn. Big data analysis can play an important role in identifying trends which allow police forces to better anticipate when and where crimes may be committed.

It is possible to model crimes and predict their outcomes and repercussions and to identify what crimes may breed other crimes in the neighbourhood or within specific groups within society. Big data can help predict which crimes become part of an unfolding spree and which are most likely to be isolated incidents. This will enable police forces to plan resources and ensure units are in the right place at the right time.

Structured, relational data may inform us that burglaries tend to happen more during public holidays when many houses are empty as people stay with friends and family and invariably burglaries happen during the night. The relational data may tell us past victims of burglary are more likely to be victims again. But there are layers upon layers of non-relational data which can be factored into predicting when crimes are going to happen – and where – which is obviously preferable to simply developing a better understanding of where and when they have already happened. Similarly if an incident can be isolated and prevented from developing into a crime spree that too is a marked improvement.

Big Data and Privacy

Of course, it is impossible to have a discussion of big data without discussing privacy. It is every individual’s right to withhold personal information and we can elect to switch off location-based services on our phones and we can politely decline the offer of a customer loyalty card from our supermarket. We can choose not to use car insurance based on in-car telematics. But at the heart of this is a point of cultural tension.

People will resist the gifting of data to businesses and organisations unless it is a mutually beneficial transaction. Organisations need to help consumers see the benefits in order to enlist them in a willing development of truly powerful big data-based businesses.

There is undoubtedly gold to be found among big data but it must line the pockets of consumers and businesses alike. We must get better banking products, an improved retail experience, better home entertainment options, an improved commute, cheaper insurance, a better seat on the plane and a better glass of wine. We need to all feel that our lives are about to get a lot better. And if organisations can help us to feel that, there is no limit to what big data can do.

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