Cashing In on Big Data

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Ambika_GadreIn this special guest feature, Ambika Gadre, VP Marketing at Bracket Computing, reflects on the rise of big data and the ultimate connectivity of everything on the planet, even our bodies, that will contribute to ever increasing volumes of data. Ambika Gadre brings proven experience leading product and marketing strategy for startups and publicly traded companies. Before Bracket Computing, she led product and outbound marketing for Cisco’s Security Technology Business Unit, a $1.2B portfolio that spanned firewall, IPS, VPN, web security and email security gateway. Prior to Cisco, Ambika led product management for IronPort Systems, building their security services and web security gateway product lines from inception to market leadership. She has also led product marketing at Ensim, Escalate, and Silicon Graphics. She holds a Master’s degree in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics and a BA with Honors in Economics from Delhi University. In 2006 she was honored with the “Shaping Info Security” Industry Award for her impact on advancing security technology.

Companies are amassing huge stores of data, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Take just one example—the Internet of Things (IoT). Over the next several years, billions of more devices will get “smarter” and companies will have unprecedented data feeds from such things as home appliances, watches, and even clothing.

These companies will have a huge opportunity to cash in and realize some major benefits from all the data they’re accumulating, if the data collection and management is done correctly and securely. A clothing chain, for example, can figure out why men’s blazers were a hot seller in Ohio in March. Car companies can identify their most valuable customers and the most effective deals to offer them.

Countless other big data examples can be listed, and the list will grow as big data becomes more accessible to people other than data scientists inside enterprise organizations. Today big data can be analyzed in real time thanks to advances in analytics software and ever-faster compute systems. Companies also have a lot more flexibility to store data in the cloud, freeing them from large investments in on-premise hardware and storage.

But companies must overcome or plan for several challenges to ensure that their big data dreams are realized. Security is one of these challenges. Some security pros have argued that “big data” equates to “big targets.” The more data we collect, the easier it is for the bad guys to identify where to strike. It’s like the difference between robbing a suburban bank branch versus a big city bank—the latter might be better protected, but the bigger payoff makes it a more attractive target.

Another challenge that companies have to figure out is what data they should collect. Some big data advocates have pushed the idea that companies should collect everything they can—from customer data to sensor readings—from all manner of devices. Even if a lot of this data doesn’t have apparent value, the theory is that over time it will reveal new insights; for example, customer buying trends or the most popular vacation destinations.

Along with all this stored data, however, could be individual addresses, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information, which brings us back to the need for security. Companies also need a system in place to review what’s being stored and when it’s time to delete the data or move it to archival storage. Otherwise, the haystack just keeps getting bigger, and the needle of valuable insights gets that much harder to find.

The Need for Speed

In today’s fast-paced business world, the most valuable insights are often the most recent. What are your customers saying on social media? What sales promotions are proving to be the most or least effective? Why has Missouri seen a big uptick in customer support calls the past few days?

It’s often not how much data you collect, but how quickly you can collect and analyze it. A couple of young entrepreneurs realized this principle more than 40 years ago. Traf-O-Data was a venture created by Microsoft’s eventual cofounders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, in the 1970s. It was designed to capture the raw data from roadway traffic counters and create reports for traffic engineers.

Gates and Allen obviously had a lot more success with their later company, Microsoft, but even as teenagers they were ahead of their time with Traf-O-Data. They realized they could provide value by providing data analysis that was more current than anything else then available.

This insight—about the value of near and real-time data that can be readily analyzed and put to good use—is key for today’s enterprises.

There’s no question that we’re living in the era of big data, and it’s not just about business. A recent documentary, The Human Face of Big Data, includes several real-life examples of big data being put to good use, such as the hospital where data collected from sensors connected to premature babies revealed a pattern of symptoms that now helps doctors keep babies healthy.

What’s coming next? The documentary predicts that the reach of big data will be unprecedented, noting in part:

“In the near future every object on Earth will be generating data, including our homes, our cars, even our bodies. Almost everything we do today leaves a trail of digital exhaust, a perpetual stream of text, location data, and other information that will live on well after each of us is long gone.”

Here’s hoping we don’t get too caught up in the digital exhaust, but that we focus on the real value big data can offer.


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