21st April 2015
Q&A with Ben Greene, CTO of Analytics Engines
So what is ‘Big Data’?
Big Data is an increasingly popular term for extremely large data sets however, it’s not an entirely new concept – the likes of Facebook and Amazon have been using it to create a competitive advantage for years. But with the popularity of smart phones, social media, and the rise of “Internet of Things” (i.e. sensors capturing sound and images) we are all gathering more and more data, all of which can be used to help businesses to gain new insights. When we talk about ‘Big Data’ we’re describing the process whereby we collect and extract sense from all these various sources of information.
What issues should a business consider when analysing data?
Firstly, a business needs to properly understand the commercial benefits of going down this track. Research has shown that companies who use data analytics at the core of their business are twice as likely to be top financial performers, 5 times more likely to make faster decisions than their competitors, and twice as likely to execute those decisions successfully. There are a number of points to consider: 1) a business needs to evaluate and quantify the potential benefits of analysing their data; 2) they need to determine the volume of data they’re going to analyse and what tools will be required; 3) they need to consider how they will capture and store this data; and lastly 4) how they want to process the information and gather insights through various tools.
What practical steps can a business take to properly exploit the data they’re collecting? What open source tools are available to organisations?
The main step for businesses is to ensure they move to electronic capture of data. A lot of companies still use paper so the main focus is capturing all your data and all in one place. For capturing large sets of data most people look to Hadoop. Once you’ve capture your data you then need to consider whether you’ll keep it on your company premise or on the cloud. Once you have your infrastructure in place, you can then look to exploring your data and finding out what value it holds, for this most people start with Hive and Spark but can take it further to visualise their data with Tableau or Qlikview. Each step of the process can be done using open source & commercial tools – depending on business requirements. Analytics Engines have gone a step further and have developed the first end-to-end Big Data Analytics platform that unites the best-in-class open source tools for data collection, storage, processing and analytics. It means companies can do all their steps to exploit their data at once rather than trying to piece together the Big Data jigsaw puzzle of tools and products.
Typically, what questions do customers normally ask about Big Data?
Typically, most companies want to get involved with Big Data but don’t know where to start and what they need to do. I think this comes from general confusion of what ‘Big Data’ means. Most customers start their conversations with “what should I be doing?” and “what answers will I get?”
For those already involved in the data sphere, what advice can you offer?
Keep looking for areas to improve and stay quick off the mark with your analytics. Data is highly perishable and you need to be able to make quick decisions to stay ahead of your competition. This will become increasingly important as more companies start getting involved with Big Data and analytics. A lot of our customers who are already carrying out analytics are starting to look towards predictive analytics and reacting quick to future trends they see coming. We advise working with specialists, such as Analytics Engines, to develop bespoke algorithms and technical platforms to enable your business to maintain competitive advantage through accelerated decision-making.
For society in general, where do you see trends in big data? Where do you think big data will affect the lives of people outside of business?
Data affects everyone in one way or another either through social media, telecommunications, retail, or health and education. One of the main areas of focus within this sector is enabling change within the health services sector. With certain trends such as dementia, cancer, or anti-microbial resistance, there is an increasing focus to giving more accurate patient diagnosis and personal patient drug treatments. Big data enables this by being able to pull together many sources of information to find answers that previously wouldn’t have been possible if you’d been looking in just one place.