Big Data Is Not Just for Big Business

I was asked a couple of weeks ago to present to a group on Big Data. The target audience was C-level executives in the SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprise) arena. Now in Ireland, this is a very different scale than that of the U.S. or larger European countries. Maximum size here for SME would be 250 employees; however, Ireland is the EU headquarters for the majority of the top 10 global tech companies. It’s important for these organisations to understand that Big Data is not restricted to large enterprises only, and they should not feel intimidated by the challenge that lies ahead.

I’ll admit straight away that I firmly believe everybody can gain value from Big Data in some way, shape or form, but you have to look at your organisation and see if it can meet the following criteria before you ever get started on the journey.

  • In-house Expertise: Do you have the in-house expertise to deliver on such a plan? Big Data projects require resources with deep technical and analytical skills, but also industry knowledge across many sectors. This is often referred to in the industry as a Data Scientist. Remember, they will be looking at data sets from many different sources and trying to piece them together to gain insight into your customer base and ultimately to add to the bottom line.
  • Financial ROI: Can you get the numbers to stack up financially? Or more importantly, do you have a deep enough understanding of how Big Data can work for your organisation? If the answer is no, then you need to rethink your Big Data strategy.

While the organisations I meet with are not all global players, the data sets they create are vast and this is where companies of any size can start to unlock their value. In Ireland, Big Data is already at work in various industries.

  • Insurance affects every one of us. From car, to house, to health insurance, it all costs money and effective data management could provide significant reductions in premiums if used correctly. Take car insurance for example. Devices are now being installed in the cars of drivers who are just learning to drive and premiums are being customised from the results of this data. Through the manipulation of data sets, insurers can create policies based on accurate insight and complement the work done by actuaries. The actuary now has access to new real-time data that can provide much greater insight into the business. They can drive revenues but also price policies according to real-time metrics that can reduce premiums for the end user. It will get to the point that the insurer will know – based on the data – if a driver is going to make a claim and can then tailor the policy to suit.
  • Healthcare is a field that can benefit enormously from the data deluge. Imagine a world where all records, test results, and research were linked. RFID tags are now the norm in healthcare. These smart tags are used from streamlining patient flow, to reducing cost and inventory and preventing theft. Consultants now share data via mobile devices to allow for remote viewing of medical images. Take this to the next level and globally, the data sets are huge. Linking all of this data is the next step in the process. Global health data should be available to research institutes for in-depth analysis, thus leading to efficiencies in the healthcare system and ultimately, to finding cures and the effective prevention of terminal disease. The data is there, but the question remains if the right people are using it.
  • Banking and Finance is an industry that doesn’t move very quickly with new initiatives as it is highly regulated and has major security and privacy restrictions. Because of these factors, it usually takes some time to get things moving. That time has come. If you could predict what your customer was doing, could you add value and tailor marketing and solutions to meet their needs? Of course you could. This is not a risky business, but it will drive revenues and increase customer satisfaction.

Here at EMC, our internal IT department runs BAaaS – Business Analytics-as-a-Service. This introduces a new agile model for reporting and analytics. Data scientists and business analysts, by way of secure access to EMC’s global data sets, can now generate their own analytics reports on our infrastructure, and the results are back in minutes instead of hours or even days. This service allows business units to crunch their own data specific to their needs, which is where the real value is.

In my opinion, every organisation should have access to such a system, but the question remains – do you build it yourself or pay for the service in the cloud? Well, that’s up to you, but the trick here is to not get left behind.

About the Author: Gary Evans