Big Data and How It’s Used

Big Data. It’s a term that has been thrown round freely in recent months. It refers to datasets that are so large that they become awkward to work with. On the face of it, that statement may make big data unappealing, however, if used correctly the value of this data is second to none. This article will examine big data and the impact that is will have (or is having) on marketers around the world.

What is Big Data?

As I mentioned earlier, Big Data is a term that refers to a data set (or data sets) that is awkward to work with due to its size, complexity or rate of growth. For a data set to be considered ‘Big’ it usually has to exceed 50TB in size; although in some, complex cases, the size has been known to rise to multiple petabytes. To put that in perspective, one petabyte is the equivalent of 1 million gigabytes.

In recent times, Big Data has become somewhat of a buzzword. The reason for this isn’t that it’s a new concept or a recently discovered resource, but that that it is only recently that technology has developed far enough to let us handle the data in an intelligent, insightful way.

Now that we can handle, analyse and interpret the data though, it can be used in many ways in many different industries.

The scale of Big Data

Big Data is large and so varied that – depending on the dataset – it can have more or less an infinite amount of uses. In part this is due to the world we live in being so vastly data filled.

Modern social media platforms illustrate this point perfectly. Well known micro blogging site Twitter clocks up around 12 terabytes of data per day, when you consider that this comes solely from mounds of 140 character ‘tweets’, it truly is remarkable. This data is then interpreted and analysed to form the basis of product sentiment analysis and eventually, product improvements.

They handle even larger datasets at Facebook. Facebook collect in excess of 500TB of data each day. This data consists of status updates, likes, photo uploads and all other interactions.

On a bigger scale, it has been estimated that 90% of that data in the world has been collected within the last 2 years. That means that there is more data concerning the period between 2010 and 2012 than there was the 1000 years prior.

So there’s no disputing that the data exists, but once you have it, what can you do with it?

Using big data

Unsurprisingly, it’s is big business in the business world. In the world of business intelligence, data can usually be separated into one of two groups. The first group is transactional data. Transactional data is data collected around events such as online shopping, user journeys and logistics. The second group is interactional data. Interactional data is data collected around interactions between people. Think social media profiles, videos and photos. The social media example above is a perfect example of interactional data.

The vice president of Infrastructure at Facebook – Jay Parikh – (relatively) famously said ‘If you aren’t taking advantage of big data, then you don’t have big data, you just have a pile of data.’ So what can it be used for?

Big data is becoming a big way in which businesses can outperform their competitors. Case studies have shown that it can be used to increase market share, increase operating margin and increase return on capital invested.

It can be used to improve a product or service as well. Companies can analyse how a product is being used, who’s using it, what they think about it and what they’d change.

Perhaps most scarily, big data can be used to find out about you. What you like, don’t like, where you’ve been and much much more. All of this can then be used to target ads and sell products. Consumer information is worth a lot of money as well, if sold, it can fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of money. Why do you think Facebook is free?

That really is just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more that is possible.

More accessible

Big data used to be the exclusive resource of large enterprises with large sets of data and near infinite computing resource. Now that isn’t the case, now SME’s and smaller organisations can make use of big data thanks to cloud computing. Big Data analysis is now available as a service, which makes it more accessible to the masses as there is no longer such a large initial capital outlay.

This levels the playing field between small and large business to some extent because now, if you have the data, you can use it.