I presented at an IBM conference recently with the main theme being the Connected Customer. An important and vital ingredient of this is big data which is clearly on everyones mind albeit at different stages.
To paint a picture, just about every business is trying to understand their customers better, and to do that – analytics are essential. You can not simply understand or analyse your customer without the data to go with it, we learned this in the most basic of any courses from information technology through to business and accounting subjects. The ‘information age’ has really emerged and what is certainly interesting is that for once in the technology space, we can actually see this new theme working its way through like a wave coming from out at sea.
Just about every person in any space has certainly heard the call, and driven by evolving capabilities in technology, we are collecting anything about everything. When an activity is seen that is going to occur, we measure it and collect the information about it. I recently saw that Google can now predict the emergence of cold and flu outbreaks faster than any of those who collect medical data. Whereas previously, we would detect such an outbreak based on appointments at the doctors office or sales at the chemist for example, Google can now determine that people searching for key phrases such as ‘cold and flu’ can be localised to a specific geographic region and therefore an area is experiencing colds and flu.
Similarly for example, while it was recently announced that the Target office in Geelong has shed 300 or so jobs, combined with the loss of jobs following the close of the Ford Factory, there is likely to be a significant and measureable increase in the searches for jobs in the Geelong area. It begs the question, could Google have predicted this? What if the increase in searches spiked a month or so earlier, perhaps even 2-3 months? You start to develop new opportunities for uses of ‘big data’, the kind that can even influence or change financial market decisions.
I have recently worked on a new application to deliver the information within the on board diagnostics computer of a vehicle to your iphone. This new app presents ‘everything you never wanted to know about your car’ on to your device. It does amazing things with it and quite frankly, thanks to a team of good designers – it presents it in an amazingly friendly and consumable way. But, my first reaction still stands – what does anyone want to do with that information? Do I really care that my car had a small electrical fault but is now rectified? Do I want to know that I was today a little heavier on the accelorator than I was two days ago? But other new uses emerge and that is the ability for GPS data, speeds and car manouvring for example, so that parents can monitor the use of thier children using the car (oh to be a teenager again borrowing dad’s car, and I certainly predict that when this technology catches on further, there will be a number of other 12yo’s that are building an app to disable or change this data, but that is another post).
So to complete the picture, we have masses of new data coming in from all angles, and new opportunities for innovation are increasing. Some are interpreting this obsession with data as a way for organisations to become ‘customer obsessed’ as another colleague at the conference put it. However, I disagreed, I believe that organisations have always been customer obsessed. They just have a new means by which to understand the behaviours and are looking for newer ways to exploit the emerging opportunities.
I also see the next challenges being vastly different also. Take a walk through your IT department, information area, reporting guys etc and you will find the individual or group of which I am referring to. Highly knowledgeable, data analysts whose minds are clearly built on tables and formats. These guys always understand, categorise and organise big data. They are briliant at it and can make it perfect for companies to do their data mining. They’ve been doing it for years and often have been exposed to these activities through the big banks, insurance companies or such and they can tell you the detail of any customer profile (spending habits, purchasing, payment or perhaps even the last envelop that the customer opened).
Now take the same walk through those wondering about the customer and how to sell something. They will often be thinking ‘how do we get closer to’ or ‘understand’ the customer in some intimate way they have not done before. Clearly these two departments need to get together but anyone who has studied tools such as the Herman Brain Dominance instrument or any similar tool will know these people are not natural friends and are not likely to be found around the coffee room together.
So my take on the challenge is a rather short one, a new group of individuals will emerge with a real commercial view of big data. Now that the wave is upon us, the challenges are presenting themselves and the new big data business people will need to come forward with the truly innovative ideas. The schools are not teaching these types of subjects, and I seriously believe that the challenges is in the education of students to be thinking about these issues much earlier than they are now. Perhaps even a ‘big data in business’ subject at university level – but the sooner they are learning the innovative uses of big data, the better.