What’s the Buzz about Big Data?

Big Data is everywhere. And ‘everywhere’ is expanding to spheres the common man is unaware of and at a speed one cannot fathom. In 2003 the scientists at the University of California, Berkley claimed that from the beginning of recorded history till 2002 humans had created 5 Exabyte (or 5 Billion Gigabytes) of data. This same amount of data was created in the year 2003 alone.

In 2011 it accelerated and the data (5 billion Gigabytes) was created in two days. And in the present day 5 Exabyte is created every 5 minutes. So by the time you finish reading this blog 5 billion gigabytes worth of data would have been created in the world and the time is only reducing further. This is the speed at which Big Data is growing. And this phenomenon, more specifically data analytics, is all set to help organizations explore new opportunities and drive innovation.

But what is this Big Data?

Imagine this, you walk into one of the Café’s you visit frequently and the waitress greets you by your first name and sits you at your favourite spot. Then she asks if you would like your favourite hazelnut hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. Or this, you are buying something, say a book from the e-commerce site and before making the final purchase there is a panel which reads ‘Many people who bought this book also bought the following books’. You click on it, browse and end up purchasing two more items from the suggested list. Or take the advertisements on the Facebook homepage which appear on the right-hand panel. This is the result of Big Data. The waitress knew your choices because of YOUR latest posts/tweets on the social networking sites.

When you buy a book on the e-commerce site, YOUR input enables the website to throw back more choices based on the CONSUMER data collected and analysed by the team. The Facebook team assembles the data provided by US, the Facebook users in terms of OUR “likes” and “interests” and assists Organizations trying to reach out to their target audience. This is Big Data. And all these examples have one common string. The vendor is aware of the requirements and preferences of its customers. This is what Big Data does.

Although this sounds like a simple phenomenon, it is far from it. I will not dwell into the technical definition of Big Data however for better understanding it can be defined as building new analytical applications based on the new types of data, structured and unstructured, in order to serve customers better and create a competitive advantage for the organization. This is precisely what is highlighted in the above 3 examples. Data accumulated from different mediums – it may be media and social networks, scientific instruments or different technologies –  is processed to assist organizations to enhance their performance.

So has Big Data emerged only recently?

Yes and No. The term ‘New data’ in the definition has two aspects. It is the new data created by humans through social networking, media and different technologies. And with the incessant, varied and ever expanding use of social media, new technology data from this section is growing at an unprecedented scale. However, in the recent years, organizations realised that they were not tapping data from existing sources which are easily available – for instance, social media, web sales, customer contact centre, mobile data, and customer feedback and so on.

Hence, realising the value of these sources organizations have begun accessing this new data to improve their business performance. Therefore, we can say that although data has been available, the importance and potential of this available data has emerged only recently.

Over the years, large organizations have been investing in and adhering to Big Data analytics. eBay spent two years transforming its data analysis and reporting capabilities. The e-commerce giant stores almost 90PetaByte of data about customer transactions and behaviours to support some $3500 of product sales a second. For instance, through Big Data Analytics eBay learnt that smartphone and tablet users visit eBay more times every day than PC users. eBAY gets more visits, which means they get more data, which means they have to process more data.

On the other hand, through Social Genome, Wal-Mart’s Big Data tool, the multinational retailer reaches out to customers, or friends of customers, who have mentioned something online to inform them about that exact product they posted about and include a discount to encourage sales for that product. This tool combines public data from the web, social data and proprietary data such as customer purchasing data and contact information.

The application of Big Data is not restricted to business houses. In the 2012 US elections saw Barack Obama win the elections with a margin of 5 million votes. He credited his data analytics team for this mammoth margin of votes.

To summarize, Big Data is about utilizing a world of information in the simplest manner to enrich the user experience. It is about speed; making processes efficient and hasten the decision-making process. It is about innovation; adding creativity to existing processes. For businesses the ability to manage, analyze, discover and utilize this knowledge from the data in a timely manner and in a scalable fashion is what will revolutionize organizations and the global marketplace. It is all about informed decision making for organizational growth.

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