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The Curious Case of Big Data

The Curious Case of Big Data

The advent of technologies that instantly analyze natural human language, along with the massive amounts and varieties of big data flowing from sensors, mobile devices, and the Web, are helping today's data pioneers find answers as well as new questions to ask. Big-data technologies and new roles like the data scientist will enable companies and their employees to embrace the geekiness of analytics for business growth.

By Anjul Bhambhri
02/25/12 5:00 AM PT

Daily, we create with every keystroke 2.5 quintillion bytes of data from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions, and social networks. Monthly, we express ourselves through 1 billion tweets and 30 billion pieces of content on Facebook. Geeks call this "big data," but astute businesspeople realize that this is a unique market opportunity.

This curious case of big data has created new technologies, jobs and challenges. To understand them and to step ahead, we need only a passion for creative discovery of new trends.

Understanding Big Data and Social Media

The advent of technologies such as software and hardware that instantly analyzes natural human language, and massive amounts and varieties of big data flowing from sensors, mobile devices, and the Web, are helping today's data pioneers find answers to questions like, "How do consumers feel about my product?" and "Why are patients being readmitted to our hospital?" and "What happens if we put a wind farm here instead of there?" These systems literally sift through the data and identify patterns and trends on the fly, then present them in a way that's easy for people to understand.

Trends can then be fed back into systems for further analysis that allow for new kinds of questions to be asked, such as "What will consumer reaction be if we introduce these kinds of products?" or "How will patients in emerging markets benefit from healthcare transformation in North America?" or "Why does sustainability positively impact our business model over the next five years?"

Emerging Roles

With big data comes the new role of data scientist. Forget about an image of a scientist in a white lab coat; data scientists are our modern day explorers in the business world. They're individuals or teams at companies who sift through all the data coming in from everywhere with the goal of gaining insights on consumer sentiment and other tough business challenges, which in turn can provide a competitive advantage for their employer.

Data scientists see trends in how consumers buy things and what actions can make a business successful. This information is gold. Knowing purchase preferences and intent to buy can help organizations make smarter business decisions and keep their customers loyal to their brands and offer them the right promotions.

One of the greatest challenges facing these explorers is determining the most important information to look at. In the past, companies looked in the "rearview mirror," collected information from social media sites, and stored it inside a database. Then they analyzed it, which could take weeks, and brought those insights back into the business.

Now that businesses can analyze any information as it happens, they can stop looking at the rearview mirror and focus on the road ahead. We're at a unique point in time where companies can better understand their customers as they share their feelings about a product, a brand or their customer experience.

The role of data scientist is causing shifts inside organizations and across business cultures, making the job in great demand. Currently, there are 10,000 job openings from a broad variety of companies, ranging from deal-of-the-day websites to traditional retailers to global consumer goods distributors.

Candidates successful in the role can handle information complexity, influence both business and IT groups, and pursue their own research. While it is good to have some background in math, modeling and analysis, successful data scientists can work across the organization and influence various business entities. It is this ability to work in technology and push collaboration that will help data scientists succeed.

The Importance of Asking the Right Questions

We've heard about analytics before. Now with advancements in big data technologies and the emerging role of data scientist, companies do not have an excuse when it comes to improving customer service or delivering new products and services that better meet consumer needs. After all, this kind of analysis will generate even more consumer sentiment, which can then be analyzed and acted upon for more growth.

Big-data technologies and new roles like the data scientist will enable companies and their employees to embrace the geekiness of analytics for business growth. We live in the era of information and the trends that are hidden in the streams of data points. Those who ask the right questions and apply the right technologies and talent are certain to crack the curious case of big data.


Anjul Bhambhri is vice president of big data products at IBM.


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