What is Big Data?

With the growth of everything digital, much is now being made about the use of “big data”. But what is big data? Where does it come from, and what do we need to know about it?

Big Data has been around for a Long Time

Although the term “big data” is bandied around a lot at the moment, it’s not a new expression. The term itself first Big Datacame into use round-about the year 2001. Businesses have, however, been collecting and using so called “big data” for many decades before that. What has changed however is technology, which has now enabled these large amounts of data to be manipulated in new ways and the expected exponential growth in stored data driven by the ever increasing digitised workforce.  Storing all this data is one challenge, accessing it quickly and easy is another and being able to analyse and learn from it is the other big challenge.

The Future of Big Data

Merchant bankers, GP Bullhound, have been expounding on the future of big data and according to the Guardian said: “We believe the analytics market is entering a new era, where technology is capable of supporting data driven business in real time.”

So this big data, which once, was a difficult to store, and took a long time to analyse, can now (thanks to the development of new software programs) be analysed quickly, and used to manipulate business strategies in real time.

What is the state of big data?

The Changing Shape of Big Data

The majority of the data that businesses have used in the past for analytical purposes was structured in a specific way to facilitate analysis – i.e. data in the form of financial reports, stock inventories, profit and loss reports, etc.

New big data analysis tools however, now enable data to the collected from sources such as emails, photos, posts on social media networking sites, videos, and so forth. So, for example, the enormous amount of data that is generated by platforms such as Facebook, whereby over 200,000 photos per minute are uploaded, and Twitter, which sees a huge 500m tweets sent each day; all of this data can now be analysed to establish whether it refers to a particular company, and if so, whether it’s positive or negative.

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Big Data Storage Costs

One of the biggest problems in the past with big data was the cost of storing it. But as the potential behind big data has become more fully recognised, with demand for its use intensifying, new technologies have now been evolved by open source projects such as Hadoop for much more economic storage, and analysis.


Big Data’s Potential Impact on Business Efficiency

By bringing the affordability of big data storage and analysis within the reach of a larger slice of the business world, more and more companies are now able to spot trends, and predict consumer behaviour. The retail industry in particular exploits this potential better than anyone else, by rearranging their stock to increase revenue from popular items, whilst reducing stock on more slow-moving products. If industry as a whole begins to take advantage of the benefits that analysing big data brings, companies could substantially increase their profits. For example, in a report published by US global business consultancy firm McKinsey & Co in July earlier this year, it was pointed out that: “By 2020, the wider adoption of big-data analytics could increase annual GDP in retailing and manufacturing by up to $325 billion and save as much as $285 billion in the cost of health care and government services.”


A similar pattern could be expected here in the UK, all enabled by the power of analysing big data.

Facilitating Funding for the Business Community

The business world is fuelled by finance, and much of this comes by way of the venture capitalists. Big data has now caught their eye, and they are using it to underpin investment in new businesses and new business ventures. This has come about because:

  • More and more businesses are able to use big data analytics as they have become more affordable.
  • Better big data analytical tools (like Teradata’s Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) Suite, are providing meaningful data that is easier to interpret.
  • The arrival of real-time analysis via platforms such as the IMM platform mentioned above, means that business decisions can be implemented based on current big data.
  • What is true for venture capitalists is also true for business owners who fund their own operations, from private or public finances.
  • The implications of the impact that big data, and its analysis, can have on businesses, is clear to see.


The Significance of Big Data going forward

The most significant event with big data is the fact that whereas once upon a time it was only the “big boys” of the business world who could afford it, now it is within the reach of SMEs.

Powerful cloud-based tools that are currently available to disseminate the information that big data contains, will not only help to identify marketing and sales opportunities, but will also help to streamline the operation of SMEs, lowering running costs and increasing revenue and profit.

The conclusion of the INTUIT 2020 Report published in December 2013, states that by 2020 the take-up of technologies like big data analytics will enable SME owners to focus their time concentrating on strategy, rather than on collecting and analysing data.

Big data has many uses in the modern world of business, and is especially useful for business intelligence and marketing purposes. This means that companies that perhaps didn’t have the resources to harness big data in the past, now have a very real opportunity to do just that using tools designed to make life easier.

photo credit: JD Hancock


Managing Director at Voyager Networks, specialists in Cloud, Mobility, Communication & Security Solutions and Managed Services.
Father, Husband Dog & Cat Owner

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