big data

13th November 2014
by Lucy Kirby

An ambiguous term, Seymourpowell decided to choose the topic big data as part of our monthly Hot Air club – a forum in which we openly discuss current topics and issues that affect and influence our work and the world. Everyone has heard the term ‘big data’, but not everyone is clear on what it means, so we decided we should start from the beginning and aimed to determine what exactly big data is. These are some of the themes we discussed:

What is big data?

There is no clear definition of what big data is. We’ve always had a lot of data, however, the term ‘big data’ has emerged due to the rapid increase in the volume, velocity and variety of data. From the beginning of recorded time up until 2002, we created 5 billion gigabytes (5 exabytes) of data. This same amount was then created in the year 2003. In 2011, this amount was created every two days and, now, the same amount is created every 10 minutes.

This exponential growth is due to the huge expansion of the internet, usability of connected devices and the development of technology able to measure and collect data. This increased production of data offers potential for greater discovery of new information.

Take a look at this TEDx YouTube video ’Big Data, Small World’, by Kirk Bone for a deeper look at the growth of Big Data.

Data format

Traditional data is structured and neatly organised in databases, however, there is an increasing volume of unstructured data, said to be growing at 40% each year. Unstructured data is typically text-heavy, such as Facebook updates, text messages and Tweets. All of this data is useless, however, unless we can develop ways of identifying patterns within the data to create meaningful predictions for the future.

Make more informed choices

Using this data can be beneficial in many ways to a variety of business sectors and to people’s day-to-day lives. It allows people to make more informed choices. RightMove, for example, provides a huge amount of information, which can be used to help people buying, selling or renting property. This data includes local crime rates, recently sold house prices in the area, predictions of monthly rent prices for a property and also an estimated value of a property. Big data can provide people with real time information that can aid their daily actions. In-car Sat Navs, for example, provide real time updates on accidents and traffic jams, allowing drivers to avoid them by suggesting an alternative route.

Customisation of Products

Another use of big data is its ability to enable businesses to customise products and services based on consumer needs. Businesses will have access to a wider pool of data, which allows them to better understand their current and potential customers. This information can then be used to inform product and service design, making it more satisfying to customers, thus producing a more successful design. However, for product and service design, looking at big data alone is not enough; consumer insights are still a vital part of the design process, necessary to add meaning to the data.

Lack of trust in data collection

However, there are also concerns over the use of big data. Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea that data is being collected about them every time they use their smartphone or log in to Facebook. People feel like their privacy is being invaded. People also may not trust the way in which their data is used, especially after such revelations of the mass data collection by the National Security Agency in America. Therefore, in order for people to feel comfortable with their data being collected, they need to be educated about how their data is being used and the benefit this has for them as an individual as well as a member of society.

It is clear that the use of big data can have a huge, positive impact on many areas of our lives. However, it is also clear that it is essential to find a way for data to be collected without people feeling like it’s an invasion of their privacy. Consumers’ need to be educated as to how and when their data is being collected and what it is being used for. It needs to be used in a way that is meaningful to the consumer. This is vital in order for consumers to have trust in the use of their data.