What's the big deal with big data?

You’d be hard pressed to read, hear or watch any technology related news without hearing about “big data”. Much like cloud computing, it’s become a real hot topic for companies across all industries, with everyone from CEO’s to marketers, recruitment to IT, hunting for a piece of the big data pie.

To illustrate just how big that pie is, let’s look at some numbers.

According to Forbes*, more data has been created in the past two years, than in the entire previous history of the human race. Data is growing faster than ever before and by 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet.

So what’s the big deal with big data? In short, nothing. Let me explain.

Big data on its own isn’t that big of a deal. It can, however, become one of your biggest competitive differentiators when analytics are applied and it’s put to use. Think of a library with thousands of books on a shelf that nobody reads. It’s impressive, and there’s a lot there, but unless people read them, learn, and use that knowledge for some sort of purpose, then it’s really quite useless.

One of the biggest challenges organisations face today is that they’ve spent their energy on simply collecting data, without any thought as to how it could and should be used. Or, worse still, they’ve thought about how it could be used, but simply haven’t put it into action.

So there are these vast digital wastelands of structured and unstructured data just sitting there, doing nothing. For visionary companies these wastelands can be transformed into commercial paradise with some strategic vision, technological investment, and communication.

Take for example a mid-tier homewares company. This company may be collecting data from their website, retail stores, social media channels, manufacturers, and distributors. This data, when applied with analytics and integrated as part of the company’s sales strategy, could be used to determine what products to stock, where a new retail store may be located, what time of day is it best to target online customers, and even create personalised promotions for individuals. By understanding and interpreting data, and leveraging it across the organisation, companies stand to not only increase sales, but save time, resources and even delight customers.

As the complexity, volume and quality of data continues to grow, so too does the opportunity to use it for something really valuable. Collecting data for big data’s sake will really only create digital archives. The real opportunity is to put the data you have to use by analysing, interpreting and actioning what your clients want, perhaps even before they do.

Marcelo Dantas, Chief Technology Officer, Automic