Big Data

If David Attenborough reportd for Mashable, we’d all be entranced by a wide helicopter shot of him wildly gesticulating outside a remote server farm as he introduces us to the concept of “big data”. Great leaps in human progress occur only in an optimal environment when everything aligns and we are propelled forward. The maturation of The Cloud, combined with our increasing inclination to create a constant stream of digital information, means that technology is on the cusp of a major leap forward.

Recently at Moving Brands, there’s been an internal circulation of emails between London and San Francisco regarding the potent combination of machine learning and human insight – so-called “big data”. In an interview for the BBC, CTO of Getronics, Tim Patrick-Smith, pronounced 2012 the year for “big data”. According to Patrick-Smith, “The latest data management and archiving solutions now allow far more contextual searching for data – this means businesses don’t just store data but they’re able to effectively mine the information contained within it, and gain business advantage in their sector”. At Moving Brands we’re not only talking to clients about how best to use their data for brand development, but also developing the brands for companies who specialise in cloud management systems and data analytics. This way means we’re uncovering the best solutions for a future built on integrated data, while simultaneously devising the brand strategies to support that operational model.

Reid Hoffman, founder of Linked In, is especially eloquent on the subject of “big data”. In a recent Fast Company interview, he emphasised the necessity for companies of all sizes to have a data strategy. As Hoffman says, “Because of Web 2.0 [the explosion of social networks and consumer participation in the web] and the increasing number of sensors, there’s all this… highly semantically indexed data, that’s indexed around people and places and all the things that matter to us and our lives”. If you think about it, it’s obvious – what is the point in having a digital strategy, or a social media strategy, if all the data those strategies create goes unnoticed?

We’ve moved on from the traditional static business intelligence, and entered an era characterised by unstructured streams of high volume, high velocity, and high variety data. The challenge now is to process that data efficiently, profitably and effectively.

From internal marketing departments suddenly getting serious about data analytics, to start-ups building apps that process that data in useful, scalable ways, this “a-ha” moment regarding data is uncovering a wealth of opportunities. VC firm, Accel Partners recently created a $100m fund for Big Data, on the premise that “We believe the future multi-billion software companies will {be} emerge from the Big Data ecosystem” (clearly their excitement negated the need for proof reading!). As Alistair Croll said recently, “The consumer web is writing big data checks that enterprise BI simply can’t cash”. Checks that Silicon Valley is raring to snap up; according to one Bay area consultant, “You can’t hire a data analyst for less than $100k”.

The wild postulation of the tech bubble aside, what will Big Data mean for brands? Hoffman brings it back to life enhancement; that if Big Data can reveal what really matters to us, then “it’s massively valuable if you can integrate and coordinate with other people in order to enhance their lives”. Moving Brands co-founder, Ben Wolstenholme, goes deeper. For Ben, “it is the difference between data and meaning. At the heart of the translation of these signals and how they map to your transformation as a business, lies stories”. Data may be big, but stories will always have the power.

Time to pre-order the box set everyone – data just grew opposable thumbs.

In my contribution to Design Assembly 3, which launches today, I look specifically at how brands can harness social media as a data stream.

Other sources on Big Data:
Reid Hoffman in the WSJ
Apache Hadoop takes top prize in Guardian Innovation Awards
Big Data Goes to Work

Photo credit: David Lewandowski for Tron