Delegates at the first Big Data Summit 2012, hosted by Computing in London late last week, heard from a range of experts – including academics, analysts and end-users with first-hand experience – about how Big Data is poised to reshape the way businesses compete and the way public services are delivered. It’s also a technological phenomenon that, according to some speakers at least, will redefine the role of the CIO.
“Business analytics will be a key differentiator,” said Jim Henrys, principal strategist at Intel Corporation. “This is signalling a shift towards user-driven innovation.”
HolidayExtras is a case in point. Nilan Peiris (pictured), chief marketing technology officer at the company, told delegates how the £200m turnover company’s use of Big Data has allowed it to grow in a declining market.
A focus on capturing and slicing data and the use of Bayesian statistics has allowed Peiris to identify underlying web performance issues and boost sales by offering personalised recommendations to the 300 million visitors to the site in the last year.
But of course, every business opportunity has its caveats. Richard Hammell, lead partner at Deloitte Analytics UK, warned that unless organisations take the radical step of implementing the necessary strategic and cultural changes, they will fail to reap the benefits.
“Big Data will change operating models and create new businesses but it’s not about getting more data. The vast majority of literature is about ‘how big’, and ‘should we incorporate social media’. That’s all very interesting, but it’s missing the point – which is what value a business can get from taking an insight-driven approach to data,” Hammell stressed.
The conference was well timed. On the day, the Cabinet Office published an Open Data White Paper outlining how public services will be made more transparent to boost efficiency, improve accountability and aid economic growth.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has pledged to open up more government data to the public as he looks to encourage a culture of “dynamic data sharing” to allow the public to hold government to account, while also creating a platform for new products and services.
A Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) study published in April this year forecast that Big Data will contribute 2.3 per cent of UK GDP over the next five years.
Already 100 new businesses have been set up since Whitehall outlined its Open Data Institute strategy in November 2011; businesses that are exploiting business models based on an ability to provide information (in many cases already in the public domain) quicker, better and by charging appropriately for it.
Already Big Data is allowing companies to make huge inroads into improving the quality of their risk assessment – from predicting the likely success of products and helping to develop customised offerings, to helping organisations develop a lifecycle of health-related products and services for specific diseases – the sky’s the limit in terms of what can be achieved.
“There are fundamental changes going on in the way we compete and provide services. There are also businesses that exist now that wouldn’t have existed a few years ago,” said Deloitte’s Hammell. “Going forward, there will be a greater tendency for us to share data to create new businesses and new ideas.”
The theory is sound, but as with many game-changing concepts, it is plagued with challenges, not least of which are tackling explosive data growth, real-time analysis, and what Henrys at Intel describes as the “democratisation of analytics”, in other words making analytics the domain of everyone in the business and not just the executive team.