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BW Businessworld

Putting Data To Work

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At a Big Data conference organised recently  in Bangalore by BW|Businessworld, almost all the participants told me that while the field held enormous promise, virtually no one knew how to harness and use all that data properly. But as the conference progressed, it became apparent that many companies in India and abroad had started using Big Data to solve real-world problems, get an edge in the marketplace and bring in efficiency in their factories.

As we had written a year ago in our first cover story on Big Data (Big, Big Data, 25 March 2013), the enormous amount of digital data being churned out is giving rise to numerous opportunities for both IT companies as well as their clients. Big Data is expected to be a huge market — $100 billion globally by 2020, if not earlier, by some estimates. And it offers good business potential to IT companies that are operating in the infrastructure, services and analytics space. And because Big Data analysis can provide all sorts of insights, it also offers a competitive edge to companies in any industry or sector that figures out how to harness and use the data properly.

A year ago, when we started reporting on the subject, the focus of discussion was generally on the two Vs — variety and volume. As its name made it clear, Big Data meant far more data than what traditional databases were used to dealing with. Instead of gigabytes of data, Big Data talked about petabytes, exabytes and zettabytes. Also, instead of neatly structured data of one kind, Big Data involved churning a variety of data — everything from social media posts to Internet retail transactions — and often trying to make sense of how different pieces of data could be used together. Now, a third V — velocity — has become a part of the Big Data story. Companies are not only talking about generating and analysing enormous volumes and varieties of data, but also of analysing it for trends real time. Analysis of historical data is falling out of favour.

What kinds of use can Big Data be put to in practical terms? As you will read in our cover story written by senior assistant editor Vishal Krishna, it has been used by companies in vastly different sectors — from a bank which wanted to give customised messages to people drawing money at ATMs to a city corporation which wanted to predict when its buses were likely to fail.

I suspect by the next elections, Big Data will also start being used by our political parties to understand voter preferences and plan strategies. In the US, I believe, this is already being done.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 05-05-2014)