Monday, June 18, 2012

Big Data -- Big Problem or Big Opportunity?

The world of IT is filled with buzzwords and trendy titles.  I could show a list of ones that I use on a weekly basis but that would serve no purpose other than to fill up this column!

So what is "Big Data" and why should you care?  Think about several of these facts:
  • The amount of data that we store as a world community has grown exponentially over the past 20 years
  • Just as you got used to the term "megabyte", you had to learn the next, bigger size which is "gigabyte".  Now we are dealing with "terabytes" and will soon be dealing in a brand new size called "zettabytes".  There have been "petabytes" and "exabytes" in between but they were/are quickly bypassed.
  • As of today in 2012 the world creates approximately 2.5 quintillion (2.5×1018) bytes of data. (Thank you Wikipedia!)
The fact is that certain applications and functions need massive stores of data in order for scientists and researchers to draw reasonable conclusions.  This is especially true in industries like pharmaceuticals, genetics, financial fraud protection, and astronomy.  As an aside, before we had Big Data strategies and tools it took geneticists 10 years to decode the human genome.  Now we can do it again with modern tools in about a week.

In the near future, as seen in certain sci-fi movies, advertising will be targeted in real-time in personalized ways to each and every consumer.  How would you do this for nine billion consumers?  The answer is that you would track every aspect of their behavior at all times during the day, 24x7, 365 days per year.  How much data would that take to make the advertising effective?

In the energy industry, especially in the oil and gas space, a big part of the business is prospecting.  It isn't so much an issue of if the energy exists but where it can be found.  The oil & gas industry is going to be a signficant consumer of  big data applications as they turn to more and more sophisticated practices of Geo-locating and Geo-prospecting in existing and new areas. 

Even utilities will forced into Big Data management strategies as the advent of the smart grid finally matures.  With meter reads coming in every 15 minutes from tens of millions of customers, every hour of every day, we will be talking about some really big data sets!  And it won't just be enough to collect it - the utilities will have to do a number of things to make it available and useful.

There is a tremendous amount of information about Big Data that my blog won't cover.  After all, we are keeping it Simple here.  But Big Data is not something that any technological manager or practitioner can or should ignore.  Be proactive and learn how to develop your own BD strategy. 

Whether it's using mobile applications to gather data, RFID, Geo applications, or sales - you can help your company win strategically by embracing a Big Data strategy sooner rather than later.  And ask any computer game development shop out there - the more you know about your customers the better positioned you'll be to make them happy!

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