Big data has the potential to change the way organizations, academic institutions and even consumers conduct business, make discoveries and interact in their day-to-day lives. But what exactly is Big Data and how is it used?
Simply stated, Big Data is the use of serious computing power to translate massive amounts of information into usable business insights. It is also characterized by volume, variety and velocity. The volume of Big Data is apparent through the massive amounts of data companies accumulate through all the digital systems they use in communicating with business units, customers, employees, social networks and innumerable other sources. Variety is represented by the different files and formats housing a company’s data. This includes everything from neatly formatted spreadsheets to unstructured data such as photos, videos and tweets. Finally, velocity is the speed of the information being produced. For example, many companies want real-time access to GPS data from smartphone users to learn how people are using their GPS, which search terms they are using, and where they are going.
Thanks to the increasing amount of Internet interactions, mobile devices and sensor networks, data is growing at a rapid rate – causing a surge in Big Data strategies and tools. According to industry research firm IDC, 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years alone. Simple, everyday tasks, such as tweeting or sending email, have created mountains of information that can provide real intelligence.
Traditionally, businesses looked at data through organized forms such as sales numbers and spreadsheets – but now, consumers are driving tons of valuable Big Data insights through their use of social networking sites, online reviews, video and photo sharing sites. This online behavior creates a win-win situation for consumers and businesses alike. Consumers’ online behavior can inform better business strategies such as sales and marketing – helping to bring consumers information about the things they care about most, like discounts for products and services, helpful hints and tips on new product purchases and special offers.
The benefits of Big Data aren’t just limited to business intelligence experts or data scientists. Everyone in an organization can analyze data, and they can do it by using familiar programs. In fact, Microsoft Excel offers a powerful data mash-up and exploration tool that provides unmatched analytical performance to process billions of rows of information. Previously, businesses could only use data to see what went wrong after a miscalculation occurred. But now, through the effective use of programs and tools, they can use data to anticipate problems and prevent them from happening in the future.
Big data isn’t new – we’ve known for years the deluge was coming. However, peoples’ attitudes toward Big Data are changing, and with it, their need to find the right tools to help organizations use information in new ways.