Big Data has become an all encompassing, somewhat sprawling term. Seemingly, it has as many definitions as it does applications. So what is Big Data, exactly, and what does it mean for business and investing?
I had the opportunity to discuss the topic with two pioneers in the space.
Mayank Bawa is co-president and co-founder of TeraData Aster. He leads the Aster Center of Innovation’s Research and Development and Customer Support. Abhinav Gupta is vice president of engineering and a co-founder of Rocket Fuel. Previously, he was Yahoo’s engineering director and led the development of their next-generation behavior-targeting platform.
In its most simple explanation, Big Data represents the ability to process a large amount of complex information to make better-informed business decisions. But as Bawa and Gupta explain, Big Data is much more than that.
“Big Data is not a specific technology. Big Data is a movement,” says Bawa. “It is about how organizations leverage different kinds of information for different types of business purposes to unlock value that was previously unattainable or unknowable.”
Data has always been used to develop high-level metrics and business intelligence. Smart organizations have long relied on data to help make strategic business decisions. But the power and allure of Big Data is how it enables organizations to leverage unconventional data points: the information that was previously ignored because there was no reasonable way to process it.
“By processing secondary research, organizations can extract business intelligence from already collected data. This data repurposing can provide important insights for a company despite the fact it may be an unintended consequence. Now even smaller business decisions are being influenced by Big Data. Companies are using this intelligence for everything from budget planning, to customer happiness, retention and consumer sentiment,” said Bawa.
The invisible hand of Big Data touches everyone who goes on the Internet or uses a mobile device. From up-sale recommendations to target advertising, the sponsored content being nudged in your direction is enabled by algorithms processing Big Data.
Gupta believes that Big Data is a driver in our moving towards more autonomous decision making by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI). The technology is evolving to a point where it can analyze patterns and provide guidance never before possible.
“More and more decisions will be coming from self-learning, self-adjusting software and machines. You’re already beginning to see it in products such as IBM’s Watson, robotic vacuum cleaners, learning thermostats and self-driving cars. We, at Rocket Fuel, are also leveraging such systems to analyze petabytes of data and drive heroic success for our customer’s marketing campaigns,” says Gupta.
Open source platforms, cheaper technology, and pre-existing free sources of data are making the ability glean information more efficient and cost effective. This is enabling mid-size companies to gain the benefits of Big Data.
Zillow is a great example of a company that leveraged Big Data to help them achieve scale and become a big business. Data doesn’t have to be proprietary. Public data can be mined from anywhere. And with increasingly sophisticated yet relatively inexpensive “out-of-the-box” solutions, you don’t have to be a large institution to enjoy the benefits.
“As the movement grows, it is an increasing influence in decision making. Big Data keeps pushing the boundaries on what you can do with information, as long as it is flowing in and you know how to deploy it,” says Bawa.
So, what does it take to extract value from Big Data?
Bawa believes an organization needs three core components to successfully leverage Big Data. And they are boiled down to the three P’s.
1. People. An organization requires data savvy analysts (data scientists) who know the business and are able to collect the right data and glean the proper insights.
2. Products. An organization needs the right technology solution that will help make sense of data and properly connect it to the business and its objectives – easily.
3. Process. An organization needs to have a thoughtful process in place that is goal oriented in how it incorporates insights into the business strategy. The process must be guided by a mantra that asks what are we trying to achieve and how will we achieve it?
Process is critical. Analytics may be the most important thing in this data supply chain, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“Big Data is not a fad. It’s a forgone conclusion. And I believe the application phase of Big Data’s development will be one of the biggest business drivers of the next ten years,” concluded Bawa.
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