In recent years, “Big data” has emerged as a popular technology term to describe unprecedented amounts of, well, data. Modern society is increasingly connected in a way that allows us to gather and store huge amounts of abstract information in massive data silos. But how do we sort through all that data to find relevant, timely and actionable intelligence? This seemingly impossible task falls on the shoulders of finely tuned analysis.
From farming to the poker tables, let’s look at what constitutes big data, how it’s analyzed and a few places you may be surprised to find big data at work.
What are big data and analytics?
Big data analytics process large amounts of varied data to reveal patterns, trends, customer behavior and relevant real-time information. The data is collected from places such as sales records, customer feedback, surveys, social media, phone records and webpage history.
But all this data can be a little like playing Texas Hold ‘Em with a 52-card hand. More is not always better unless the right approach and tools are used. Enter analytics.
The main advantage of big data analytics is its ability to process and respond to incoming data so that businesses can react to situations quickly. The results include taking advantage of beneficial market climates or minimizing damage when problems occur. Compared with traditional business analytics, big data analytics provide businesses with information much more relevant to the current issues, allowing businesses to stay responsive.
Organizations can use this information to increase efficiency and serve their customers better with the analysis, which uses a mix of specialized software, algorithms, analysis professionals and statisticians.
Big data analytics also examine massive amounts of often seemingly unrelated data and finds relevant patterns, which gives businesses a competitive edge or new strategy.
Caption: The cumulative amount of collected data worldwide will double between 2012 and 2020.
Old Schools in New Ways
Farming is a perfect example of how big data is transforming an industry that has mostly remained unchanged for decades. Measuring, recording and analyzing a spectrum of metrics from weather to soil conditions to equipment use mitigates a host of agricultural inefficiencies.
McKinsey & Company estimates that a third of food produced annually around the globe is wasted or lost. In economic terms, this spoilage amounts to a $940 billion toilet flush.
In the fields, data gathered from sources like unmanned drones and strategically placed sensors alert farmers on crop health and pest infestation problems. The result is a curation of well-monitored, optimized growing conditions. Data analytics in supply chains help solve the problem by discovering ways to move food products faster and more effectively. Once the food is packaged or stocked at point-of-sale, smart sensors can monitor for gases emitted from spoiling products. Thus, new levels of freshness are achieved while combating food-borne pathogens.
Caption: Big Data and analytics improve the freshness and safety of our food supply from farming practices through distribution and storage.
In the U.S., an increase of big data analysis software aimed at farming is expected to expand by 14 percent by 2022. Experts predict the current big data era can revolutionize farm productivity in a manner like the introduction of mechanization.
Big Data for Big Good
Big data analysis is seeing inroads in nontraditional sectors that don’t prioritize profit margins and competition.
Instead, it’s used for the public good by attempting to decrease violence and abuse among vulnerable populations such as foster children. Working together with data from law enforcement and health agencies, analytics programs monitor each person’s risk levels and immediately contact caseworkers when there is a change. The goal is to prevent violence and ensure safer communities.
In the nonprofit sector, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) uses big data and analytics to track child and mother wellness indicators in countries around the world. Well-honed child wellness metrics like malnutrition, attended births and infant mortality are collected and sorted to view areas with the most critical need. Thus, the UNICEF and its donors can effectively target funds in ways that will have an impact. As UNICEF proclaims, “problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved.”
Playing the Insight Games
In the $91 billion global gaming industry, big data also plays an ever-increasing role. The connectivity of mobile and web-based gaming provides game developers a massive amount of data. And as the business of gaming grows more competitive, developers turn to this data to unlock the trends and interests to attract and retain players.
Like how an e-commerce website tracks a customer’s searched and purchased items, gaming sites capture a player’s activity. An online poker site, for example, might gather data about which games a player chooses, how long they play a game and their money transactions on the site. Analyzing this data leads to enhanced, highly personalized poker experiences, recommended product offerings and an improved customer service.
Caption: An instructional video explains big data and applications for analysis.
You may be surprised to learn that poker decisions are made using data analysis. Tools, such as training sites and odds calculators, can help players determine the best moves for nearly any given scenario. And analytics capable of quickly assessing game dynamics and providing strategy empowers players. In poker, the big data phenomenon has given rise to stats usually reserved for team sports like baseball or football. If there were trading cards for pros, you might see stats for VPIP percent (average percent of time a player voluntarily puts chips in the pot), PFR percent (how often a player raises before the flop), and WTSD percent (how often a player is willing to go to showdown after seeing the flop).
In today’s interconnected technological world, the problem is not too little information. Rather, the problem is how to sift through staggering amounts of increasing data to find relevant information. Big data analytics is proving to be a beneficial tool across a range of sectors to help organizations better serve their purpose, whether that’s for profit like say, a game of Omaha Hi-Lo, or the betterment of humanity.