Big Possibilities for Big Data Analysis
Advancements in big data analysis have the potential to improve growth in every sector
By Ocean-Leigh Peters, Staff Writer
In a fast paced, technology driven world where shoppers can order everything from pizza to Porsches online, while simultaneously updating their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts with a single swipe of their smart phone, it’s no surprise that the sum of potentially useful data in the world is growing by leaps and bounds.
In fact, according to IBM, every single day human beings create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Such large sums of data are difficult to process due to their sheer outstanding amount and complexity, thus creating what is known as “big data.”
By 2009 it was estimated that businesses in all sectors of the US economy with 1,000 employees or more produced approximately 200 terabytes of stored data that could potentially be useful.
Now that there is an abundance of data floating around, businesses and various other corporations, and sectors can combine various data sets to extract any useful information.
Wayne Hansen, the manager of the Student Technology Center at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John explains big data as “a catch phrase which describes the notion that we can now analyze massive data sets. Basically we are capturing more data, personal, social, scientific, et cetera, and now computing power has achieved speeds that allow us to analyze this data more thoroughly.”
Hansen’s main technological interest is in the interaction between technology and culture. He is able to explore this interest through big data. For example information from smart cities, such as crime and tax rates, population, and demographics can be analysed to make general observations about that city and culture.
Big data is produced in a variety of ways. From cell phone signals and social media to purchase transactions online and in stores, data is being created and changed constantly around us. This data can then be stored for future use.
There are three important aspects of big data that make it useful in various markets, they are known as the three v’s; volume, velocity, and variety. Volume, referring to the quantity of data that is created and can be used, reaching up to terabytes and petabytes. Velocity, meaning the speed at which data is acquired and processed before it becomes irrelevant within a particular sector or in comparison to other data sets. And variety, which means the more diversity amongst the types of data sets used the better and more accurate the results and predictions.
Big data analysis has big potential in various markets. From weather and technology, to business and social media, big data holds the possibility to advance sales, productivity, and predict future outcomes of products, sales and services. The possibilities are endless.
“The premise is that with enough data most everything becomes predictable,” says Hansen. Patterns can be unveiled, routines established, and statistics brought to light. With such predictions comes a new competitive edge in almost every sector. Big data analysis then becomes a key component in the success or failure of new business, and the creation of new ones.
Imagine being an employee at a company that designs clothing for a target consumer base of women in their late teens to early twenties. Wouldn’t it be convenient, and profitable, if you could quickly and accurately predict the potential sales for say red sequin high heels?
That’s where big data analysis comes in. If you could efficiently harness all relevant statistics, such as how many women have ordered red sequin high heels online, and how many have tweeted about them, or posted Youtube videos referring to red high heels, then you could accurately predict how well your product will do before it even hits the shelves. Thus eliminating the guess work and increasing the potential for success.
The ability to make such predictions is becoming a growing demand and thus so is the development of big data analysis.
Pulse Group PLC, a digital research agency in Asia, is one company that has jumped on the big data bandwagon. Pulse intends to make major investments in the near future in this growing field. Their investment plan includes developing a new big data analysis center in Cyberjaya.
Such centers would be responsible for compiling all of the client’s relevant date streams and analysing it in a quick and efficient manner in order to discover important information, such as patterns and correlations that could potentially be useful to the client’s business or objectives.
“We can apply big data analysis,” says Hansen, “and make generalized statements.” These generalizations hold the potential to improve every sector, including business, education, social media, and technology.
Many companies have the data they need to make predictions, but they don’t have the ability to connect the various pockets of data and break them down in such a way to make them useful.
Bob Chua, Pulse’s chief executive officer, admits that their new big data venture, known as Pulsate, could potentially become their main focus. A wise financial move as the big data market is expected to grow over $50 billion in the next five years.
In the next three years Pulsate plans to make advancements in big data analysis and created 200 high level jobs for data scientists. “Both collecting and analyzing data will require specialized skill sets,” notes Hansen, “thus opening new opportunities.”
In order to perform these new jobs, employees would have to be properly trained. The Pulse Group also intends to start one of the first training academies for data scientists in the world to accompany their new data analysis center, and meet the growing need for data analysts.
Big data can have other positive effects on the education world other than simply offering new opportunities and learning experiences. Hansen states that student behaviour can be analysed through big data analysed to improve the education sector. “Ultimately the goal is to use such collected data to improve the students experience [and] increase retention numbers.”
Between the creation of new jobs and education opportunities, and the potential predictions and growth in businesses, big data seems to be an all together good thing. However, there are some disadvantages and flaws that that exist with the analysis and use of such massive quantities of information.
One problem that needs to be addressed is what information is free game for various corporations to use as their data sets. Issues involving privacy and security will need to be addressed. Also who owns what information is a question that will need to be answered. When data is continually sent and received the line between personal intellectual property and the public realm becomes blurred.
Secondly not all information is useful, or it is useless unless analysed properly. Some data sets would virtually mean nothing unless combined with the proper and relevant corresponding data. Meaning that unless a company has access to all the data they require and the knowledge on how to find and analyse it properly, then big data is essentially a waste of their time.
Also data is growing at an alarming rate. Ninety per cent of the worlds data has been created in the last two years alone, and that number is steadily growing. If new relevant data is being created faster than we can analyse it, then big data analysis becomes irrelevant. After all, the results are only as good as the information being used.
Finally, some data is subjective or comes from questionable sources, and is thus detrimental to the results of big data analysis. “Given the current state of our technological driven society,” says Hansen, “there is a danger in accepting, without questioning, sources of data and that is dangerous.” This goes for the information being analysed, as well as the information that is produced. If the analysts producing the information do not have skills or credentials to properly analyse big data, then their resulting information could be questionable.
Keeping in mind the issues that can arise with big data analysis, it is still a potentially useful and profitable market. Big data has the ability to improve all sectors in a variety of ways, either directly through the analysis of data resulting in helpful information, or indirectly with the creation of education and job opportunities. Making the most important piece of information, whether or not we can keep up with big data.
Ocean-Leigh Peters is an aspiring Journalist from Sussex, New Brunswick. She is a recent graduate from the University of New Brunswick Saint John with an English Honours Degree, and will be studying Journalism at the University of King’s College in the fall.