Big Data, Big Disruption

The exponential rise of big data and how it affects you

As more of our lives move into the digital sphere, data has become incredibly valuable. There’s so much digital information floating around that commentators have hailed the beginning of an era of ‘big data’. This basically refers to huge datasets that are much larger than traditional collections of information. This info has been generated by growing digitisation, especially from online financial transactions and social media. It’s a never-ending paradox – the more digital society becomes, the more data there is. . . and more data means even more digitisation. Big data is a multi-layered term, however, the most important thing about it is how it can be used. What exactly can you do with mass datasets, and how are they disrupting the business landscape?

Big data is hugely useful for analysis in all sectors, from retail to politics. Only last week, the Artificial Intelligence system MogIA was proven right yet again after correctly predicting the outcome of the US presidential election for the fourth time running. There’s so much data out there that seemingly machines can tap into human emotions. Scary? yes, but clear proof that we do indeed live in the age of big data.

Outside of the political sphere, other industries are gradually accumulating more and more digital information. The rise of data has come from increasing use of social media and a general adoption of technology by the consumer market. All businesses are having to learn how to process and analyse a torrent of info which, even a few years back, simply wasn’t available. As much of a challenge as this might be, it’s not difficult to see how this is good news for many corporations – especially those in banking and retail. Banks like RBS are experimenting with an AI assistant that sifts through data to provide the best answers to customer queries. There’s also Blockchain – helping an entire currency based on layer upon layer of code. As the volume of data increases, so does the need to adopt innovative tech to handle it. Another massive enabler for the rise of mass data is the Internet of Things. Consider the amount of data created by smart houses and smart factories. . . there’s even a smart office in Dubai. Of course, there’s a darker side to data which can be summed up in one (compound) word – cybersecurity. Who exactly has access to data, and how can organisations and individuals ensure that their own information is properly protected? Connectivity has forced consumer devices to stretch their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) even further. There are some cybersecurity products in place, but online data is undoubtedly very vulnerable.

How disruptive is big data?
The availability of data on an unprecedented scale has already changed the way that so many organisations work. Corporations such as banks have recognised the merit in upping digitalisation to save on time and resources. Administrative bodies, infamous for processing reams of paperwork, have also begun adopting automated systems to make data collection and analysis more efficient. This is already having a huge effect on society by making it increasingly necessary to create an online presence. This has caused a dilemma, though, as not everybody is traceable via the digital world. It’s becoming easier for individuals to slip through the net, so to speak. As well as disrupting society, the need to process huge datasets is also affecting traditional business models by forcing legacy systems to adapt. One way in which corporations have chosen to deal with data is through artificially intelligent systems. Unfortunately, this has led to the displacement of numerous human employees. If you take away physical data processing, you remove the demand for white collar workers. Moving into the governmental sphere, mass data also has the potential to change the face of crime. If our most valuable information exists in the relatively accessible digital sphere, it’s reasonable to suggest that criminals would look to exploit it. Recent spikes in cybercrime show that this is already happening, forcing organisations across the scale to consolidate their online security.

Data and business. . .
From a business perspective, big data is undeniably useful. For starters, it’s transformed the accuracy of market research. Through machine learning algorithms retailers can now target their advertising to suit the personal preferences of individual customers, using information to gather even more information. Mass data has allowed companies across the board to access far more info, not only just about their customers but also about themselves. The problem, which by now is clear, is making sure that their customers can trust them with so much data. The importance of this is highlighted by the severity of the penalties levied against organisations that don’t invest in cybersecurity measures. Under the UK Data Protection Act, for example, companies are liable to fines of up to £500,000.

Ultimately, big data provides businesses with a valuable tool with which to generate successful strategies, and has brought efficiency (not to mention transparency) to various organisations that previously drowned in paperwork. On top of this, it’s encouraged the further adoption of technology (particularly AI and IoT). However, it’s also caused some major headaches. First of all, forcing businesses to choose whether or not to adapt and innovate and confront the Innovator’s Dilemma yet again. There’s also the question of information ownership, and the sketchy security of the digital sphere. You can collect all the data in the world, but you’ve got a serious problem if you can’t defend it against cyber-attacks. This is the most pressing challenge for society as a whole – understanding exactly how to secure information in the age of big data.

Does your business deal with mass data? What are your concerns around big data? How can companies best ensure the security of digital information? Share your thoughts and experiences.