Big data, big ideas

As every aspect of our life now involves interaction with digital technology, we leave an ever increasing exhaust of data in our wake. Smart phones, personal health monitors, engine management systems and credit card transactions to name a few, are all tracking our digital footprint.

Industry, commerce and social media create more information every two days than we did in our entire history up to 2003. More photographs were taken in the last 12 months than in the previous 200 years. 

And more data is on the way with the estimate that data production will be three times the current levels by 2020.

Much of this additional data will be unstructured, as almost every device which consumes power begins to have an online presence and the Internet of Things (IOT) becomes the norm.

The availability of massive data sets and the access to low cost cloud services has made analysis of this data truly accessible. Big Data offers the opportunity for organisations to better understand how they operate and interact with customers and the wider environment. 

So what are some key considerations for us to reflect on when we consider the impact of big data in our organisations?

Firstly size matters when we look at data, ‘n=100’ can be misleading whereas ‘n=all data’ should be our goal. When looking at how green a Toyota Prius is against a Land Rover Defender, initial data would suggest the Prius is the clear choice but factor in that around 75 per cent Land Rovers are still on the road and we come to a very different conclusion.

Interpretation and correlation of data can also take us down dark alleys.  We can accurately state that over the last 300 years we have seen a reduction in the number of pirates in the world as well as an increase in ocean water temperatures. Does this correlation show that to tackle global warming we clearly need more pirates? Shiver me timbers!

So what do we have to look forward to when we start to get big data right?

At the present time our use of big data is very analytical to reflect on what has just happened, how many football mangers have Newcastle averaged each season or how many rainy days have we had in April. As we start to understand big data we’ll be able to predict the future, failure rates on products, servicing needs of machines. In the last world cup, Microsoft accurately predicted the result of 15 out of 16 football matches through analysing data on previous player records, the type of turf they were playing on and how far away from Brazil they are based.

Ultimately, this will lead to ambient intelligence, a scenario where we interact with the world around us and our lives are made easier through the internet of things and AI. Imagine a typical working day where you arrive at Kings Cross Station and signs on the wall in London direct you to your meeting place as it connects with the Outlook calendar in your phone. You arrive at a client’s office and face recognition automatically signs you in and calls the lift for you to the correct floor, without touching a button. There are a lot of things for us to consider in terms of how much data we are prepared to share and who owns it, but ultimately these are questions we should explore and not shy away from.

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