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Big Data: Tapping into the Potential

by Ben Stinton - 1st April 2014


'Big Data' is only going to reach maturity if businesses know how to handle it. The UK government has announced its investment in the Alan Turing Institute to help British businesses get their heads around it. Other than the obvious privacy concerns, it is a good concept that no one quite knows how to make effective use of.

Big Data is the gathering of massive amounts of data on every business process, in the hope that businesses can improve efficiency and reduce costs. In the run up to Christmas last year negative headlines exposed Amazon for its excessive monitoring of employee movements and its consequent tight targets for job completion at its Swansea depot. This is one example of how a business knows exactly what its employees are doing, and when, all the time - even ten years ago this would not have been possible, in large part due to the costs of data storage and processing.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced plans for the government to invest £42 million into the Alan Turing Institute, which will look at how to analyse and use such data. Demis Hassabis - former owner of the UK artificial intelligence company Deep Mind which was bought for £400m earlier this year by Google, says of the Alan Turing Institute "We know now that pretty much everything can be expressed as information, and artificial intelligence is going to touch every area of our lives."

One simple example of where "Big Data" is working successfully is in farming. Measurements are made concerning soil chemistry and plant growth, and the parts of fields that need more fertiliser or pest control are fed as coordinates into tractors' GPS units. The farmer then controls which treatments should go where on the field, saving on costly chemicals. If only 25% of the field is under-performing then the farmer will use a quarter of the fertiliser he once used fertilising the whole field.

Such data collection and use is being rolled out across multi-nationals and start-ups alike. If an integral part of the operations of a multinational company could be improved, Big Data will highlight the under-performing processes to allow management strategies to be put in place to boost the firm. The applications of Big Data reach far and wide, and it is down to you to utilise its full potential for you and your business.

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