Big Data Solving Big Problems

Author

Steve Olenski, Contributor

March 19, 2015

Whether you’re involved in the business or tech industries, you’ve probably heard a lot of discussions regarding ‘big data.’ But, what exactly is big data and how is it being used to solve big problems?

Big Data Defined

If you search for the definition of big you’ll come across a varied list of explanations. In fact, the definitions are so varied that a pair of computer scientists, Jonathan Stuart Ward and Adam Barker at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, attempted to come up with a single definition for big data by examining the following definitions:

  • Gartner: a “high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision-making.”
  • Oracle: “Big data is the derivation of value from traditional relational database-driven business decision making, augmented with new sources of unstructured data.”
  • Intel: “Digital data of unusual size (beyond the capacity of a traditional database) or generated at spectacular velocity, such as the data collected from telescopes or by social media providers.”
  • Microsoft: “Big data is the term increasingly used to describe the process of applying serious computing power—the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence—to seriously massive and often highly complex sets of information.”

Ultimately, Ward and Baker came up with the following definition (via MIT Technology Review): “Big data is a term describing the storage and analysis of large and or complex data sets using a series of techniques including, but not limited to: NoSQL, MapReduce, and machine learning.”

Hopefully, that definition helps explain what big data is. Here’s a look at how some businesses and organizations are using, or could use, big data to solve problems.

Duetto

TechCrunch describes Duetto as “a price optimization SaaS that uses big data to dynamically surge or discount rates for rooms.” Hotels can use Duetto’s software to “drop prices if no one is visiting their website, or charge more if it detects a conference in town or beautiful weather.” By using the data provided by Duetto, “hotels can double their profitability by successfully marking up rooms just 10 percent.”

Netflix

The popular on-demand Internet streaming service could use big data to vary its pricing. Brandeis University economist Benjamin Shiller combined demographics and Web browsing to develop accurate predictions for how much specific customers would pay for a subscription. According to his formula, Shiller discovered that by tailoring prices “one can yield variable profits 1.39 percent higher than variable profits obtained” through how much customers have purchased in the past or by categories, such as seniors.

UPS

UPS, the biggest package shipping company in the world, has been using big data for years to not only increase profits, but to become more efficient and environmentally friendly. In fact, the company spends a staggering $1 billion each year in the technology.

According to Bloomberg Business, by using the On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation, or Orion, system, UPS is able “to craft optimal routes that reduce distance, time, and fuel.” For example, “delivery routes were designed to minimize left turns, which require vehicles to wait at intersections for oncoming traffic to clear before proceeding.”

By doing small measures like this, along with sensors in vehicles to predict when parts break down, UPS is able to save $50 million per year in fuel, maintenance, and time. Data also helped UPS save “more than 1.5 million gallons of fuel and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 metric tons.”

The City of New York

The New York Times reported New York City has the following information about its residents: the condition of “their boilers and their sprinkler systems, the state of their local taxes, the number of heart attacks and fires that occur inside their buildings and whether they have ever logged complaints about roaches or construction noise.”Other information includes commuting habits and their children’s test scores.

With this data the city was able to find “stores selling bootleg cigarettes; sped the removal of trees destroyed by Hurricane Sandy; and helped steer overburdened housing inspectors — working with more than 20,000 options — directly to lawbreaking buildings where catastrophic fires were likeliest to occur.”

It also stopped to track 95% of violators who were dumping cooking oil into sewers in their neighborhoods – which clogged drainpipes.

All in all some intriguing examples of how different brands are using big data to do good things and solve big problems.

Do you know of any examples of brands using big data this way?

This article was written by Steve Olenski from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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