During my inspiration sessions over the last couple of years, ‘Big Data’ has been a regular topic of discussion. Big Data features on the news more and more frequently nowadays and a number of companies already implement it successfully as well. But what exactly is Big Data?
Big Data is a popular concept, used to describe the exponential growth of structured as well as unstructured data. Big Data will be playing an essential role within our society as well as in the business world. How? When large quantities of incoming data get structured and analyzed, companies, scientists and government departments can derive maximum benefit from the information. For example, companies will use Big Data to get a better understanding of people and consumers, enabling them to provide customized products and services (real time).
How does Big Data come into existence?
Big Data seems to be somewhat intangible, because it develops literally everywhere. Sensors in candy machines, pacemakers, parking meters, security systems or electric wheelchairs (and there are countless other sources) all provide streams of data. Sensors in wearables or the Apple Watch (release date not too far away now), will keep an eye on your health and the self-driving vehicle, packed with sensors, enables you to partake in traffic without having to worry about your safety.
Keep in mind that each and every action performed while connected to the Internet provides data streams for third parties. Companies such as Google and Amazon can already predict what actions you will take in the future. Your favorite book is being delivered before you have even ordered it (predictive shipping).
Big Data usable thanks to artificial intelligence.
The large data streams that come in are not immediately structured and made transparent; this is mostly achieved by using artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to perform tasks that are normally carried out by people. Previously, these tasks required human observation and thinking capabilities. Example: the pharmacy robot that keeps track of medical records and gives the patient the prescribed quantity of pills.
Or even more extreme: a ‘machine’ that produces medication on the basis of personal data (sensors in the body). Another example is Google’s self-driven car which maneuvers based on available data generated by sensors on the car and on the road.
Even politicians successfully make use of Big Data analysis. In 2012, American journalist Nate Silver was able to predict President Obama’s victory. He did this by collating hundreds of studies and surveys. President Obama himself also made use of Big Data. His campaign team used it to encourage people to vote. Models were developed in order to predict who would be the most likely voter and whom the election campaign should therefore be aimed at.
Artificial intelligence actually adds knowledge on the basis of past behavior, the behavior of others and/or other available sources. It is able to take independent decisions about the next actions to be taken. ‘Algorithms’ form the basis of these decisions. These are clever plans-of-action with a set of rules which, when properly applied to data, produce a certain result. A simple example is the section ‘recommended for you’ on Netflix. On the basis of a series that you watched before, Netflix chooses a series that you would most probably also like. Your behavior as well as the behavior of other viewers like you are included in the final calculations and result (the recommendation). In the future, artificial intelligence will advise us on what we should eat in order to live longer and on what the destination of our next summer vacation should be.
We will also receive daily recommendations on how to exercise in order to stay fit and factories will manufacture products that match our bodies’ requirements. Traffic jams will become a thing of the past and education will become ‘faster than real time’ (predictive), based on the personal output of the students.
The ‘Big Data effect’ for businesses
Companies will also start noticing the impact of Big Data. Smart algorithms will choose the right prospects (intelligent prospecting) and determine the best pricing (‘individual dynamic pricing’). Through sensors and vitality algorithms, employees will receive a suitable work load which will significantly reduce absenteeism. Big Data will allow the CFO ‘faster than real time’ insight into costs and processes which will facilitate optimal efficiency. It will also give insight into the way people use products, resulting in a direct contribution to the improvement of product or service development.
Big Data for everyone
A large part of the Big Data ‘mountain’ will be accessible to the general public. Simply put, this is due to the fact that everything and everyone is now connected to the Internet. For instance, people will use their Oculus Rift to connect to freely accessible social media, but sensitive corporate or government information will remain private. Only authorized individuals will be allowed to enter that particular part of the Big Data world. Authorization can, for instance, be given by means of an iris scanner.
Big Data and fraud
Data fraud will however increase rapidly. Since the amount of available data will grow by over 500% in the next 5 years, will our data still be secure? I predict that every citizen of the world will soon have access to a ‘personal guardian’ who watches over our data and picks up on patterns and ‘intrusions’. In addition, I hope this guardian will not be made available by Google but that governments will start playing a leading role. There are multiple initiatives in the Netherlands such as the Land Registry which is examining the possibility to have the Dutch notary ‘solve’ the issue of data security. I do, however, have little confidence in government or notaries at the moment. Perhaps we should already anticipate the fact that our data will never be safe again. Should we then painstakingly keep our data to ourselves or should we take the security risk?
I tend to bet on the latter. The advantages of Big Data (such as applications and services that make use this data: Uber, Netflix, banking, gaming, health, energy, shopping) will probably outweigh the potential security issues. We can already see proof of this all around us. Everyone knows that Facebook and LinkedIn capture, analyze and use our data. We haven’t seen any great user uprising yet and the number of people who have unsubscribed is limited to a handful.
Two examples of successful implementation:
IBM & Recology
IBM & Miami Police Department
What are we really going to notice in terms of the Big Data revolution?
The possibility of collecting each available piece of information and storing it in the cloud will make the lives of, for instance, doctors, a lot easier. They will need to spend less time on paperwork and have more time for their patients. Since many people will be making use of different types of wearables in the future, doctors will be aware of their patients’ eating and drinking habits and lifestyles faster than ever before. As a result, a physician will be able to make a diagnosis more quickly and formulate a tailor-made treatment plan.
In the future, Big Data is going to help us find solutions faster. It is going to help us focus on higher goals. The simple housework will be left to the domestic robot so that both parents can continue working or focus on personal development. The robot would also be able to fetch the children from school at 15:00. Parents will have evenings and weekends free for their children because the robots would already have completed all the household tasks. More fun, happiness and freedom. Could that be our future?
Within the next 5 years, delivered products and services will almost always be meeting our needs. We will no longer have to think about it; products will be delivered at the time our data indicates we need them. Everything you do digitally will be analyzed and based on that, companies will help you find the solution that you haven’t yet found yourself. In short, our needs will be continuously anticipated upon (life, work, food, relationships, transport) and that will pleasantly surprise us.
Will your company still exist 5 years from now?
Big Data is big, powerful, valuable and scary at the same time. It offers numerous opportunities to improve our world, our lives and our businesses and make them more fun and more profitable. But before we can reap any benefits, we must go back to the ‘here and now’ and start taking action. 95% of companies are currently struggling with their ‘NAWTE’, where the registration of basic and product information is already a hot mess.
First you will need to get your ‘small data’ in order. Then you can get internal and external ‘special forces’ teams involved, to work on the plans for the future.There is no more time because on your left and on your right you are being overtaken by fast start-ups, innovative business models and completely new cultures. The fact that your business has been around for 50 years or longer, says nothing about whether or not you will survive the next 5 years (like, for instance, Kodak).
The existence of your business will depend on the decisions you make in the next few years. That’s all the time you have. What did you think of this article? Will Big Data really start controlling our lives? Do you have a different opinion? Let me know in the comments below.