The world of big data

Number of mobile-connected devices are expected to surpass 10 billion by 2018

In a day, people send more than 144.8 billion emails, post more than 340 million tweets, share more than 684,000 pictures, statuses and more on Facebook, and upload 259,200 seconds of video on YouTube… and that’s not even taking into account the more than two million Google search queries received every minute, and all of the posts made to social media sites such as Tumblr, Instagram and so on — not to mention the hundreds of other connected devices, everything from cars to cattle, that connect to the internet every second. There is more significance to these statistics than merely keeping us connected; they all contribute to the billions upon billions of bytes of Big Data that play a significant role in the way our future is being shaped.

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In 2012, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data were created every day. According to Cisco, there were approximately 8.7 billion connected devices in 2012, and there has been tremendous growth in the number of connected devices since then, with an estimate of more than 10 billion mobile-connected devices by 2018.

Every connected device, whether it’s a smartphone, a car, a utilities system, or even a monitoring device in a cow, contributes to the Internet of Things (IoT), and generates what we call today ‘Big Data’. This can be in the form of human-generated information, such as the social media and communications mentioned above, or in the form of machine-generated information, which is gathered from sensors — such as weather monitors, for example.

Having so much information on hand, about practically anything in the world, can be put to immense use… but only if how to harness the potential is fully understood. The opportunities that can be gleaned from capturing and analysing Big Data are limitless, but extracting valuable information from infinite strings of data is harder than it might seem. With great rewards to be had in terms of game-changing business intelligence (BI), however, it’s worth investing in a detailed analysis.

Analysing Big Data can provide an intimate insight into habits of your customers, which can be used to create a definitive edge in terms of customised marketing and products, improving customer experience, and more.

As a pioneer of the Smart movement in the region, the UAE is leading in technology adoption and the IoT is growing rapidly here. Cars in Dubai, for example, are connected through our Salik tags. These are a form of radio frequency identification, or RFID, which automatically charge the driver every time they pass through a toll gate, while sharing car information with the authorities. The benefit of this for the Roads and Transport Agency (RTA) is accurate information for the number of cars on tolled roads at any time, any day of the year. This data can be used to determine the need for alternative highways to be built, or for new speed limits to be introduced, and so on. It can even be used to track the movement of specific vehicles.

Across the region, shopping is a highly pursued pastime and there is a particularly vibrant retail industry across numerous shopping malls. This creates a strong future for Retail Analytics, where data gathered anonymously throughout the retail journey can be used to shape everything from store layouts, to marketing displays, even packaging and produce placement. Developers, retailers and manufacturers can all benefit greatly from analysing the habits of customers, who will likely never know that the store they are shopping in, or the mall they are visiting, has been optimally laid out in order to make their experience better.

Another application of Big Data analysis results can be to boost customer loyalty and retention. In a field as competitive as telecommunications this is something especially important, but any fast-paced industry with potentially high turnover can benefit from this. Companies that better understand their customers, or their potential customers, are able to tailor their products, offerings and marketing strategies to appeal specifically to whoever they want to target. Data can come from social media, survey responses, website requests and more — basically, any point of contact can be a worthwhile source of crucial data. Amongst other uses, Big Data can also be deployed to detect and mitigate instances of fraud. By using Big Data platforms, these approaches can correlate data from obvious sources, such as, for example, credit bureaus or banking records, with new sources. The rationale is that broadening data sources can yield deeper insights into human behaviours that are relevant to the problem. For instance, when an insurance policyholder files a disability claim, the monitoring of Twitter or Facebook activity could uncover whether they were, or are still, engaging in dangerous or strenuous activity such as rock-climbing or playing tennis.

And while the possibilities for Big Data to positively influence our world are immense, there is also the question of privacy: is gathering so much data from all connected sources a violation of privacy rights, and is it safe?

With the evolution of the Big Data era, data has become a commodity. We share information every time we connect to the internet, and this subject is causing much debate across the world’s regulatory boards. Given the multiple countries, continents, and jurisdictions that Big Data is gathered across, a united approach to the regulation of data collection, storage and trading is not easy to establish.

Protecting Big Data is, however, more easily accomplished. Controlling and managing access to the data is the easiest point at which to start, and, despite the relative infancy of the Big Data movement, this is something that is already being established. We can expect to see increasingly bigger strides taken to provide an even more secure environment for Big Data collection and storage, especially as the world’s major governments take up the case to drive further innovation and more vigilant policy enforcement.

As the Big Data movement continues to grow, it creates unlimited opportunities for those with an enterprising mind. From providing invaluable insights to offering technology entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop security measures, this is one undeniably huge component of our day to day lives that will be the cornerstone of the Smart City evolution.


The writer is the chief commercial officer of du. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.


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