Big data hype slowly but surely melting away

  • Beginning to spawn practical use cases, making real-life inroads
  • Inspiring uses include those in sports, healthcare and manufacturing

Big data hype slowly but surely melting awayFOR the past six months or so, I’ve been covering quite a number of events that touched on big data and its impact on the business world.

As I’ve argued before, technology trends are always preceded by hype, and big data is no different.
Vendors, service providers and analysts have all done their part in beating this particular drum. Journalists and tech publications have been fed with the same predictions and case studies, all of which try to prove that the power of big data is actually coming to light.
This situation has become so acute that recently, the Global Language Monitor, a company that measures the frequency in which words and phrases appear in global print, electronic media, and on the Internet, has identified ‘big data’ as one of the most confusing high-tech buzzwords of the second decade of the 21st century.
“High-tech buzzwords are now coming at us full-speed from all corners as the ‘adorkable’ nerd is exiting the periphery -- and is now is viewed as a societal asset,” said Paul Payack, president and chief word analyst at the Global Language Monitor. “New terms are bubbling forth at an ever-increasing pace, driven in part by the tremendous growth and accessibility of data.”
But every now and then, some hype does live up to expectations and while I wouldn’t quite say that the impact of big data is very clear for all to see, it has shown some signs of practicality and usable case studies in recent months.
At the recently concluded CeBIT last month, the world’s largest electronics trade show by size, a panel of industry professionals concluded that big data is beginning to take off, and in a very focused way.
Satya Ramaswamy, vice president and global head of digital enterprise at Tata Consultancy Services, said that a small number of companies have adopted big data in a big way, but noted that these companies are very data driven-type companies such as e-commerce players and the retail sector.
A good example of a company which uses advanced analytics every day is online travel portal Expedia Inc, touted to be the world’s largest travel company in the world.
Big data hype slowly but surely melting awaySteven Tilston, vice president of supply strategy and analysis at Expedia, said its portal continuously uses analytics so that it may refine searches and provide the right recommendations to its customers on some of the best travel locations.
It was no surprise that this year’s CeBIT trade show’s theme was ‘Datability,’ to showcase the impact of big data in conjunction with the required sustainability and responsibility with regard to its use.
There were many demonstrations of big data and its use at the show but notably, a fair number of startups did well to exhibit their software solutions to address real-life big data problems.
For instance, London-based startup Viewsy, which won the ‘Startup of the Year’ competition at CODE_n, a specialised showcase for startups at CeBIT, demonstrated how its solution uses use big data to provide retailers with actionable intelligence to help them grow their business.
Viewsy’s technology captures data such as foot traffic anonymously and passively, and interprets them using statistical methods, thereby helping retailers improve their return-on-investment by interpreting customer behaviour statistics and thus understanding their behavioural patterns.
To me, this was a true real-life use case of how big data has begun to work itself into a solution that can be of real value to businesses.
Tyres, football and more
There were a couple of other big data use cases I’ve seen recently, which I believe have true potential to impact today’s businesses.
In a trip I made at the invitation of SAP to its main campus in Waldorf, Germany, Stefan Sigg, senior vice president of HANA product and development, told me that one large, traditional brick and mortar business has reaped the benefits of big data analysis.
The German software giant, which recently opened a Software Innovation Centre in Potsdam, Germany, is working with Milan-based Pirelli Tyres, one of the biggest tyre manufacturers in the world.
According to Sigg, Pirelli has begun embedding sensors in some of its products, aimed at collecting relevant information such as tyre pressure, temperature and speed – all of which is then transferred back to an on-board unit in a vehicle.
The on-board computing unit tracks other information such as GPS position, mileage, time traversed and logs all this information down. By correlating this information together with the data retrieved from the tyres and analysing it in real-time, Pirelli will be able to predict if and when any tyres are susceptible to a breakdown.
By further analysing the data, the company can also find out different patterns for the entire fleet of vehicles and perform proactive maintenance on the vehicles before they break down; and in turn, prevent accidents.
Big data hype slowly but surely melting awayAnother interesting use of big data is how SAP is using its HANA in-memory technology to help Germany's Hoffenheim Football Club train its players.
According to Bernd Leukert, head of application innovation and member of the Global Managing Board for SAP, the use of big data in football is a natural evolution of how technology is used in sports.
A passionate footballer himself, Leukert says SAP began working with Hoffenheim by embedding sensors on everything from shin guards (pic, left) and kits to even the ball itself, so that data can be collected and analysed by its HANA platform.
SAP argues that this data can be used to customise training to strategically target the strengths and weaknesses of each player and create the most efficient training plan possible.
Leukert claims that using tools such as spatial analysis (pic below, click to enlarge), the data collected could be applied to individual and team movement profiles to track distances, speed averages, ball possession, player tendencies and more. This knowledge can even be used to reduce the risk of injury, and ultimately boost levels of play.
A similar system is also being developed by SAP for the German national football side ahead of the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil in June this year.
Leukert says that the use of big data in a practical way in sports can also lead to other useful developments in the healthcare and logistic industries.
Big data hype slowly but surely melting awayFor example, he says sensors attached to truck drivers of logistic companies can monitor their vitals signs and warn them when their limits are reached so that they can then stop and rest.
The same goes for healthcare where sensors can warn a heart patient as to when he needs to do his next check-up – all these managed by the patient himself through an app on his smartphone.
“The potential is endless,” Leukert says. “The processing of big data is made possible through real-time analysis powered by in-memory technology such as SAP’s HANA.”
Big data has indeed come a long way since the word was bandied about as the next big thing, together with cloud computing, social and mobility.
While technology companies are busy making their pitches to the larger market, the key to their success may be found in the bedrock principle of innovation – giving people what they need in a new, automatic and easy to use way.
Once tech companies, including startups, figure this secret sauce, perhaps we could take a step nearer to the true potential of big data analysis.

(Pix of HANA football analysis courtesy of SAP. All rights reserved)
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