Courtesy of Rosalie Marshall of V3
Whether you like it or not, big data analytics technology has
nabbed its spot as the next hot trend in the IT industry, and the
term will be banded about for years to come.
At increasing numbers of industry events big data analytics is
listed, along with cloud computing, social networking and mobile
computing, as a technology that has the potential to change the IT
landscape as we know it.
published a report last month that forecast the market for
big data technology and services will grow from $3.2bn in 2010 to
$16.9bn in 2015. This is seven times the annual growth rate that is
forecast for the IT market in general.
It's quite shocking when you think about it. Hardly anyone was
even talking about big data five years ago.
But now as big data becomes the new IT buzzword, droves of press
releases latch on to the term like it's the only subject that will
keep the public relations industry alive, while us journalists
begin to regard the topic with dread.
And you can't really blame us. We remain swamped by the cloud
computing 'revolution', writing story after story about companies
that have finally taken to the cloud or IT providers that have
released cloud products.
We've covered research into the size and value of the cloud
market, investigated the extent to which firms are for prepared for
the cloud, and had a good, long discussion about all the possible
cloud computing challenges you can think of.
But maybe we shouldn't be so hasty. Before we've dismissed big
data as the next cloud, let's just lend it a moment's thought, and
consider whether this technology has a silver lining.
Big data analytics is not just a new type of computing
architecture that can cut costs and drive efficiencies, but a set
of technologies that have the potential to change society so that
it resembles sci-fi films.
Interactions between individuals, businesses and the government
can become faster and more intelligent with the analysis of big
data. Yes, some of this is scary, especially to those individuals
who worry over privacy. But there is also a lot of good the
technology can offer.
One of the oft-cited examples is law enforcement agencies using
big data analytics to research crime hotspots and combat crimes of
a specific nature.
This has advanced in the US with an initiative called
Crimespotting, and in the UK police force with Crime Maps. Both
programmes aggregate crime reports and allow the public to track
instances of crimes in their neighbourhoods.
Meanwhile, another example often used to highlight benefits of
big data is that of medical researchers soon being able to scan
data from public health records, medical textbooks, clinical
studies and individuals' genomes to pinpoint successful treatments
or to spot diseases before they emerge.
This is in fact not so far off. Europe's largest university
University of Medicine Berlin (PDF) gives every doctor and
senior manager ready access to data about operations, scheduling,
patient care, and in some cases, patient records. This allows
operations to be planned according to the skills on wards at a
particular time, reducing the waiting times of all
By 2017, every cancer patient at the hospital will have their
human genome mapped and incorporated into the system, ensuring they
are given the best treatment available to them.
The list of the good big data analytics can bring society is
pretty much endless.
Another use of the technology would be to prevent cities from
becoming too congested with traffic.
Mobile phone signals could be monitored so traffic controllers
are alerted when there are too many cars flooding the roads in a
particular area, and these controllers could alert other drivers,
suggesting they take alternative routes.
There are then the benefits the technology offers businesses. It
is already becoming commonplace for financial institutions and
insurance industries to analyse large amounts of data in real-time
for risk management purposes, but there is also the opportunity for
retailers and other types of businesses to use analytics technology
to better target their customers.
Examples of these businesses are hard to find at the moment. Not
only is the technology to crunch big data expensive, but businesses
also do not want to overstep the privacy mark, particularly in the
UK where the data privacy debate can rage so fierce.
The UK population remains protective of their data, even though
they increasingly choose to share their data with loyalty card
providers to save money, or with social networks for their own
Just think of the hoo-hah that's caused whenever Facebook or
Google updates their privacy policies.
However individuals' mindsets are likely to change as they
increasingly see benefits from sharing their data with
For example, Nike+ allows runners to log exactly where they run,
rest and stop, and then share this information with their fellow
Tens of thousands of running routes are now held by Nike, and I
bet the likes of Starbucks and Dunkin Doughnuts would probably be
very interested in getting hold of this data.
Okay, you may not want to be lured by doughnuts and lattes when
you're trying hard to shift some pounds, and I am half-joking with
this example, but the point is our data can be used by businesses
to make our easier. Just think about how often we share our
location with mapping applications to help us find out where to
I may regret saying this, but I do feel the IT industry is about
to get a lot more exciting with the growth big data, and it will be
interesting to see more examples of businesses using big data to
offer us up solutions to our increasingly hectic, always-connected
and always-on-the go lifestyles.