Written by Alice Payne
Posted on 27/11/2014

How big data analytics is changing the world

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‘Big data’ is the current buzzword in business intelligence. In a world where financial transactions, social interactions and most things in between are increasingly conducted online, the consequent data stream, or flood, provides unparalleled insight into consumer behaviour. 

And this phenomenon extends far beyond consumer intelligence. According to George Lee, Chief Investment Officer of Goldman Sachs’ Investment Banking Division, “90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years” . Big data refers to the data sets, accumulated from traditional and digital sources that are of such vast size that conventional software is unable to process this information within a valuable timeframe. 

Big data analytics

The need for organisations to capture, analyse and utilise this data led to the emergence of ‘big data analytics’ – the process of collecting and analysing structured, semi-structured and unstructured data and transforming it into valuable insight. Data analysis therefore evolved from an IT function to a core business strategy. And as companies and industries continue their effort to capitalise on the scope of available data, the provision of statistical analysis tools or information – big data analytics – is an increasingly crucial service. 

A recent report by Research and Markets, a global business intelligence provider, estimates that over the next five years the big data market will almost double, “from nearly $39 billion in 2015 to more than $76 billion in 2020”. 

Revolutionising development

The impact of this data revolution is not restricted to consumer insight. Accessing such huge reams of data has the potential to boost development across industries, from agriculture to medicine and transport. As George Lee explains , the remit for utilising big data is vast and diverse. For instance, it provides the medical industry with “the ability to make better diagnostic decisions”, while in agriculture, “cultivation techniques can be analysed and refined in a way that’s never been possible before”. This unprecedented phenomenon also extends to industrial applications, where one terabyte of data is generated by jet engines on every flight.  

Big data analytics is impacting society at every level, from global industry development down to the individual level. As companies harness the insight of big data analytics, they are using it to transform both the information we receive and the way it is delivered. Netflix, for example, recently used big data analysis to determine what programmes would be popular among its consumers, which led the company to commission the series House of Cards without a pilot episode, in response to their analysis of the key determiners for a popular series. 

Big data on a national and global scale

Big data analytics is also impacting society at a national level through the deployment of public services. London’s Metropolitan Police Service, in collaboration with Accenture, recently harnessed big data analytics to pilot a predictive software scheme to develop crime risk models. The pilot study analysed the likelihood of criminal activity by known gang members across London and used data collected over four years, including from existing systems, crime records and social media activity, to create risk assessment models and effectively allocate their resources in response. 

A big data analytics approach is also being used to address global issues. Authorities are using big data analytics in response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, where mobile phone data is being analysed to anticipate how the disease is likely to spread. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is collating mobile phone mast activity data to ascertain areas where there is an influx in calls to helplines, as this is likely to indicate an outbreak, and to monitor travel patterns. Health authorities can then use this data to allocate resources to affected areas. 

As the reach of big data analytics extends from delivering consumer business intelligence to addressing global epidemics, the future scope of this phenomenon remains to be seen. In the meantime, what is clear in this evolution of knowledge accumulation, is that innovation is, and will continue to be, key.


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