What is Big Data?

Big Data is a big deal these days. We hear the word everywhere, yet almost no-one seems to be able to define clearly what it is. Part of the problem is that people use the term to mean different things. People seem to think that it is either an enormous game changing new discovery, or much of the same thing statisticians have seen for years. In reality it is likely somewhere in between.
Put simply, it is data from various sources (both digital and traditional), from inside and outside an organisation, that is used for analysis. It can contain both structured and unstructured data, but it is not the volume of data that is really important. Rather, it is what organisations can do with the data that makes it interesting.

Different Types of Big Data

Big Data is often defined by three Vs – Velocity, Variety and most of all, Volume:

  • Volume is what gives the data its epithet – organisations gather huge amounts of data from all kinds of sources, both online and offline. Storing and analysing this data is easier than ever.
  • Velocity refers to the enormous speed at which data comes in to organisations. Data streams in, almost at real time, which has required a change in the way it is understood and dealt with.
  • Variety references the many kinds of data which are now received. While data used to refer largely to numeric data, such traditional databases, it now often includes video, audio, email and other such digital innovations.

Potential Uses

How to actually make use of the vast quantity of data which an organisation has gathered can be a challenge. Understanding anything more than general trends in the data requires skill. However, having more data means potentially understanding more about a company’s clients, and itself.

Data allows companies to understand their customers more, and to specifically target particular products at them. Data also allows companies to understand more about how they work in practice, rather than in the abstract.

RFID tags allow companies to analyse exactly how long deliveries take to complete, and whether they can be improved by a change in route. The data has also found a use in medicine. Hospitals can monitor the heart rates and breathing patterns of every baby in a ward, and predict which are likely to develop illnesses before traditional medicine would.

Why is it Important?

Big Data is the future of analytics, and opens up a host of new possibilities for how companies view their business. It allows organisations to view how they really work on a larger scale than ever before. While this has many applications, primarily it is important in improving efficiency, and identifying potential areas of inefficiency.

This has always been the aim of analytics, but using the massive amounts of data available now, coupled with advances in understanding this data, means that organisations can make decisions faster than ever before. Soon, using data, organisations will be able to predict what is likely to happen before it even takes place.

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