No-one would get a prize for predicting that this year will be ‘the year of Big Data’, in fact, if you did you might find yourself with a wooden spoon instead. Big Data is going to big in Big Government, Big Data is going to be big in M2M, Big Data is going to be big across all communications, in fact there are at least two ‘Big Data’ conferences, sorry, ‘summits’ happening in the next four weeks, in Europe. In related news, we also hear startling predictions that this year is going to be the ‘year of analytics’. Whatever last year’s question was, ‘analytics’ is the answer.
Completely unshocking as these predictions might be, it is worth taking a moment to consider two points.
The first is that the challenge for the communications industry is not simply that the data is big. The communications industry has been dealing with big data for many years and have been making a pretty good job of it. But, although big, it has been largely linear and straightforward in nature. A customer makes a call and that call needs to be logged and priced and billed and posted. Repeat for the number of customer calls on your network. For large carriers this number runs into billions of bits of data on a daily basis.
The real challenge now is that the ever bigger data is coming from different media, in different formats and much of it is unstructured. The number of partners is increasing, and getting them all to adopt one standard for delivering data is impossible. Social media is unstructured by definition and yet is becoming the main communications channel between carrier and customer. Making (common) sense of unstructured data is the real challenge this year.
Which brings us to the second issue – analytics. It is tempting to be all ‘powerpoint’ about analytics. Analytics will save us, analytics will allow us to understand our customers and serve them better and our CEOs will love us and promote us. Analytics will not. Analysts might. Working collaboratively with analysts might well. Using analytics to scale their thinking, to speed up processes and to, ultimately help test theories and become predictive all begins with good people. Let us not, in the all the powerpoint paraphernalia that will be heaped upon this year, forget that, like everything else, success in getting our arms around Big Data will come from the human brain, and not from machines. They just help with the ‘big’ bit.
There is too much hype around these issues, but that does not mean that we should trivialize them. Data will unlock the potential of M2M markets and provide a way for operators to regain their investment, data will indeed underpin best in class customer service and ultimately deliver competitive advantage. But with Big Data, the thinking should start small.
A summit to consider (Amsterdam, 29-30 January 2013) – TM Forum’s Big Data Summit