BIG DATA…what are we talking about?

The term big data is bandied around in many current conversations - being either the hero or the villain. 

For many it is seen as the enemy that allows Government and big business to ‘spy’ on us.  For others it is the holy grail of being able to create promotions with a personalised sales pitch intended to achieve a win-win outcome – saving you time and money whilst increasing sales and loyalty for the business. 

So what is BIG data and why should we care about the conversation?

First, some basics:

  • Data is numbers *
  • Big data is the massive volume of numbers that are collected with tools of technology
  • ​Information is the meaning ascribed to the (BIG) data
  • ​​Knowledge is the interpretation of information to make use of it.

One type of data may be numbers – for example high and low tide times. Collated for a time frame, this will develop a table of tide times.

Fisherman may convert this data to knowledge to determine the best time to go fishing.

Of course, the fisherman is also considering information on ‘known’ locations for different fish, and some other factors based on experience – own and shared.

* The data conversation generally refers to numbers, however it may be unstructured - not fitting into a format of traditional tables or charts.  This may include video images, sonar readings, social media activity.  It may look like a collection of web postings to provide travel experiences, or related email or text messages.

If you have information, and can use it to make better informed decisions – for planning, responding or thinking ahead, then you are harnessing data to enhance performance, which in the business sense may link to enhancing profitability. 

What you do with what you know is the value of the information that is collected.

You do need to have the right information, from appropriate sources and on a timely basis.

Engaging in the world of big data can require collaboration with someone who can assist in choosing the right tools.  These tools function within the range of meta data, developed by algorithms, accessed through platforms and interpreted by the skilled data analyst.

Harnessing big data requires a range of skills:

  • Analytical skills to make sense of the data
  • Business skills to understand your objectives and understand the processes that drive growth as well as profit
  • Communication skills – verbal and visual - to share the message
  • Problem solving – to be able to identify what is relevant to the goal of the business and how to approach it.

In a sales and service sense, big data can be used by business to understand customer behavior. And we give them access to our current behavior in a myriad of ways which are frequently linked to our phones.

Consider the following tale of author, Brian Clegg.  He orders an Uber taxi by phone app. 

Details of the journey, the driver and payment are collected.  Uber links to his bank account to finalise payment.  With plans to meet friends in mind, his favourite coffee house sends a message to his phone letting him know that one of their stores is close by.  He sends a message to his friend to meet there.  Using an app, he places an order which means the skinny latte is waiting on arrival.  This interaction is with the coffee house, and only when the credit is topped up will there be an interaction with the bank.

Using the ‘Find my Friends’ app, more people are located for a social evening and, wanting to head inner city, the phone is used to check for transport options and timetables.  In some locations, phones are being used to pay for the public transport. Currently in Australia we have myki’s and Opal cards so not yet phone reliant, but nevertheless the travel is tracked.   Arriving at a restaurant, which may have been reserved on the phone and again the phone can be used to settle the account, which, connected to the point of sale terminal is also recording the meal.   All these connected systems makes individual life easier, and information about personal likes and choices are recorded giving companies more information.  Information that is then used to attract and encourage more of the same behavior.  Of course, there is also the considerations of privacy, security and ethical use of big data and these should not be forgotten.

From the modified tale of a night out for one person, consider the data that is collected when multiplied across the population of a major city, or town.  The information being amassed becomes significant.  What is the point of the data collection? To provide companies with information that allows them to provide targeted offers, and this is why you should be part of the conversation.

Remember what you do with what you know is the value of the information that is collected.

This tale refers to the collection of customer activity and its potential value.  There are many more ways in which big data is being used for medical research, science developments, space exploration, education and travel.  

As the data continues to amass, small businesses may be left behind if they fail to consider how to seek and harness data for their own knowledge. Never has the mantra, knowledge is power had so much significance in the advancement of innovation and growth.

To be part of the national conversation on VET skills development to harness big data contact Yvonne Webb.