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Big Data: Welcome to your Future

Every year London Fashion Week drives forward a new sartorial craze (this year is leather, the colour purple and florals). Similarly, every year there seems to be a new craze, or buzzword, in the world of business. The 'It Girl' of 2012 seems to be Big Data (with M-Commerce on an almost equal footing, fighting it out for comment space and twitter mentions like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on a farm in the American Midwest).

There are lots of pictures of elephants, and other things that are bigger than the average human being, and lots of references to 'gazillions' and 'terabytes'. But what does big data actually mean for businesses in practical terms, and how do we measure the ROI on using big data?

In simple terms, big data is data that exceeds the capacity of your conventional database system. There is too much data, or it moves too fast, or it's just weird – there isn’t necessarily just a lot of it. So, you have to find a different way of cleaning it up, making sense of it, or keeping up with it. Many businesses, without knowing of an alternative way, have been sitting on 'gazillions' of 'terabytes' of potentially useful (or indeed potentially useless - it's a bit of a Schrodinger's cat) data.

However IBM has found that using its big data platform, it can, "Scrutinize 5 million trade events created each day to identify potential fraud, monitor 100’s of live video feeds from surveillance cameras to target points of interest, or convert 350 billion annual meter readings to better predict power consumption". Big data, big claims, and potentially big results. The bigger the data, the better the patterns, the easier the insight, the better the forecasting. In utilities, they claim to have achieved 99% improveD accuracy in placing power generation resources, using previously un-analysed data.

Google did it one better by realising they could use global aggregated Google search data to forecast the next flu outbreak. And then doing it. And of course, just to remind us that they do in fact run the entire galaxy, they built a website to keep us updated on the next time we'd be needing a lemsip – check out your prognosis here.

Verging on creepy? Yes. But think of the possibilities. If a company can analyse all their available data, at one time, they access the power of millions. Millions of consumers blithely clicking away, entering their personal details, revealing their likes, dislikes and habits all over the internet and eventually  littering a trail of breadcrumbs straight towards exactly what makes them tick.

McKinsey predicts that the effective analysis of Big Data will become a 'key' basis of competition in business. Data-driven strategies will become the norm, and the Analytics Director will become an accepted member of the SMT. However, there will also be a shortage of people with the relevant skills to analyse Big Data effectively, at the exact point when access to that data is critical.

Now, if only you knew of a recruitment consultancy who specialised in finding extremely bright, analytical, strategic candidates at short notice. Wouldn't that be something?

Thanks to http://www.greenbookblog.org and http://surveyspencer.com for the images