Sections

What Exactly Is Big Data?

Michael Matzer

You’ve heard it mentioned everywhere from the board room to the break room, but you’re still wondering, what IS big data exactly? We provide the ultimate overview.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Photo: istockphoto.com

Big data is the term that market researchers have adopted to refer to what Gartner describes as “high-volume, high-velocity, and/or high-variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization.” The big question on the minds of IT specialists and managers is: What challenges does big data pose? And where exactly does it come from?

According to predictions made by network specialist Cisco in May 2012, the volume of Internet data will quadruple between 2011 and 2016 to 1.3 zettabytes, or 1,300,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, per year. In the same period, the number of Internet-connected devices will double to 19 billion, says Cisco. These will be used by 3.4 billion people –almost half of the global population.

But where do these huge volumes of data come from? Some of it originates from conventional transactions. Another source is wireless WLAN data traffic, which, according to Cisco, will account for about half of all data traffic by 2016.

In Germany, where every member of the population will be using five Internet-connected devices by 2016, mobile data traffic is set to increase 21-fold between 2011 and 2016, from 18 to 394 petabytes (PB), or 394,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, per month. By these calculations, mobile data traffic will outgrow fixed-data traffic three-fold in a five-year period. Moreover, video data traffic will comprise 63% of mobile traffic by 2016, compared with its current share of 44%. Faster broadband connections and suitably powerful end devices, such as surveillance cameras, will foster this development.

Where the data comes from

Mobile devices, WLAN, social networks, sensors, and machines – they all generate the kind of mass data that market researchers refer to as big data. But, depending on where the data comes from, its characteristics can vary significantly. This is an important point to bear in mind if you want to get information out of data and turn that information into insight.

According to Gartner, the volume of data traffic is growing by 59% every year. “Today’s information-management disciplines and technologies are no match for this pace of growth,” says Mark Beyer, Research Vice President at Gartner. “Information managers need to completely rethink their approach to data processing by planning for all dimensions of information management.”

Herein lies the problem

While big data certainly presents a problem in terms of storage and analysis, the actual problem, according to Gartner, lies in spotting meaningful patterns within the data that can help companies make better decisions.

The search for meaningful data is hampered by the way in which the data is structured, because this causes difficulties for existing IT systems. Relational databases (RDBMS), which support virtually all core processes, are very good at storing structured transaction data in rows and columns and giving easy access to it. This is because transaction data consists chiefly of data in fields that each have a single data attribute such as a numeric or alphanumeric value. Often the data even describes itself by means of so-called “metadata”.

But where does a relational database store an e-mail that only consists of a header and a text? And how does it store – not to mention analyze – a tweet or Facebook message?  Clearly, either traditional databases require new tools for analyzing data with multiple structures or users need to deploy other databases that are better suited to the job at hand.

Available tools

When it comes to data that already has a degree of structure, the tools are already available. Call-center records, for example, consist of standardized forms that are filled out by call-center agents. These have a prescribed structure that is relatively simple to search through. Web shops, on the other hand, use tools that log users’ mouse-clicks as they browse a web page and create what is known as a “clickstream”. Large companies have been storing clickstreams in data warehouses for years and analyzing them in the hope of recognizing the kinds of patterns that Gartner is referring to.

The results of these analyses give customer-facing departments useful information about how they could improve their advertising, marketing, sales campaigns, and even their product development. This is because the logged mouse-clicks usually provide a very clear picture of where users’ preferences lie and which products or product features do not interest them at all. This kind of analysis is at its most valuable when it reveals new trends that initially appear as statistical outliers. These give companies the potential to develop innovative products that could transform them into trend-setting market leaders.

Why handling big data will be a core skill

Whatever an enterprise’s big data plans are, they should definitely be long-term ones. “The ability to handle extremely large data volumes,” predicts Yvonne Genovese, Vice President and analyst at Gartner, “will become a core skill in businesses and organizations. Increasingly, they will be looking to use new forms of information – such as text, context, and social media – to identify decision-supporting patterns. This is what Gartner calls a Pattern-Based Strategy.”

This strategy, Genovese continues, is a major driving force behind the big data trend. It relies on using the full range of dimensions in the search for meaningful patterns, and its results provide the basis for modeling new business solutions that allow companies to adapt to changing market conditions. “The cycle of searching, modeling, and adapting can be completed in various media, such as a social media analysis or in context-oriented calculation models.”

“Worldwide, companies invested 3.38 billion euros in big data projects and services in 2011,” reports Steve Janata, a consultant with Experton Group. The market for new solutions will grow by 36% per year between 2011 and 2016 and, in Germany alone, some 350 million euros will be invested in Big Data in 2012. According to Experton, this makes the market for big data one of the fastest-growing segments in the IT industry and a driving force in the IT economy as a whole.

Comments

michaelmatzer

About michaelmatzer

Michael Matzer is a Freelance IT Journalist. His specialties include Cloud Computing, IT security, Network Security, Big Data & Analytics (mobile, Cloud, location, social media, operational) and Data Visualisation.

Why 3D Printed Food Just Transformed Your Supply Chain

Hans Thalbauer

Numerous sectors are experimenting with 3D printing, which has the potential to disrupt many markets. One that’s already making progress is the food industry.

The U.S. Army hopes to use 3D printers to customize food for each soldier. NASA is exploring 3D printing of food in space. The technology could eventually even end hunger around the world.

What does that have to do with your supply chain? Quite a bit — because 3D printing does more than just revolutionize the production process. It also requires a complete realignment of the supply chain.

And the way 3D printing transforms the supply chain holds lessons for how organizations must reinvent themselves in the new era of the extended supply chain.

Supply chain spaghetti junction

The extended supply chain replaces the old linear chain with not just a network, but a network of networks. The need for this network of networks is being driven by four key factors: individualized products, the sharing economy, resource scarcity, and customer-centricity.

To understand these forces, imagine you operate a large restaurant chain, and you’re struggling to differentiate yourself against tough competition. You’ve decided you can stand out by delivering customized entrees. In fact, you’re going to leverage 3D printing to offer personalized pasta.

With 3D printing technology, you can make one-off pasta dishes on the fly. You can give customers a choice of ingredients (gluten-free!), flavors (salted caramel!), and shapes (Leaning Towers of Pisa!). You can offer the personalized pasta in your restaurants, in supermarkets, and on your ecommerce website.

You may think this initiative simply requires you to transform production. But that’s just the beginning. You also need to re-architect research and development, demand signals, asset management, logistics, partner management, and more.

First, you need to develop the matrix of ingredients, flavors, and shapes you’ll offer. As part of that effort, you’ll have to consider health and safety regulations.

Then, you need to shift some of your manufacturing directly into your kitchens. That will also affect packaging requirements. Logistics will change as well, because instead of full truckloads, you’ll be delivering more frequently, with more variety, and in smaller quantities.

Next, you need to perfect demand signals to anticipate which pasta variations in which quantities will come through which channels. You need to manage supply signals source more kinds of raw materials in closer to real time.

Last, the source of your signals will change. Some will continue to come from point of sale. But others, such as supplies replenishment and asset maintenance, can come direct from your 3D printers.

Four key ingredients of the extended supply chain

As with our pasta scenario, the drivers of the extended supply chain require transformation across business models and business processes. First, growing demand for individualized products calls for the same shifts in R&D, asset management, logistics, and more that 3D printed pasta requires.

Second, as with the personalized entrees, the sharing economy integrates a network of partners, from suppliers to equipment makers to outsourced manufacturing, all electronically and transparently interconnected, in real time and all the time.

Third, resource scarcity involves pressures not just on raw materials but also on full-time and contingent labor, with the necessary skills and flexibility to support new business models and processes.

And finally, for personalized pasta sellers and for your own business, it all comes down to customer-centricity. To compete in today’s business environment and to meet current and future customer expectations, all your operations must increasingly revolve around rapidly comprehending and responding to customer demand.

Want to learn more? Check out my recent video on digitalizing the extended supply chain.

Comments

Hans Thalbauer

About Hans Thalbauer

Hans Thalbauer is the Senior Vice President, Extended Supply Chain, at SAP. He is responsible for the strategic direction and the Go-To-Market of solutions for Supply Chain, Logistics, Engineering/R&D, Manufacturing, Asset Management and Sustainability at SAP.

How to Design a Flexible, Connected Workspace 

John Hack, Sam Yen, and Elana Varon

SAP_Digital_Workplace_BRIEF_image2400x1600_2The process of designing a new product starts with a question: what problem is the product supposed to solve? To get the right answer, designers prototype more than one solution and refine their ideas based on feedback.

Similarly, the spaces where people work and the tools they use are shaped by the tasks they have to accomplish to execute the business strategy. But when the business strategy and employees’ jobs change, the traditional workspace, with fixed walls and furniture, isn’t so easy to adapt. Companies today, under pressure to innovate quickly and create digital business models, need to develop a more flexible work environment, one in which office employees have the ability to choose how they work.

SAP_Digital_Emotion_BRIEF_image175pxWithin an office building, flexibility may constitute a variety of public and private spaces, geared for collaboration or concentration, explains Amanda Schneider, a consultant and workplace trends blogger. Or, she adds, companies may opt for customizable spaces, with moveable furniture, walls, and lighting that can be adjusted to suit the person using an unassigned desk for the day.

Flexibility may also encompass the amount of physical space the company maintains. Business leaders want to be able to set up operations quickly in new markets or in places where they can attract top talent, without investing heavily in real estate, says Sande Golgart, senior vice president of corporate accounts with Regus.

Thinking about the workspace like a designer elevates decisions about the office environment to a strategic level, Golgart says. “Real estate is beginning to be an integral part of the strategy, whether that strategy is for collaborating and innovating, driving efficiencies, attracting talent, maintaining higher levels of productivity, or just giving people more amenities to create a better, cohesive workplace,” he says. “You will see companies start to distance themselves from their competition because they figured out the role that real estate needs to play within the business strategy.”

The SAP Center for Business Insight program supports the discovery and development of  new research-­based thinking to address the challenges of business and technology executives.

Comments

Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

Tags:

What If Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho Could Be Proved Right In Medical Staff Row?

Mark Goad

Big Data and the Internet of Things brings new level of insight to sports medicine

With the 2015-16 European football (soccer) season underway, we are already seeing the impact of the huge pressure to succeed. In some cases, it is boiling over even this early on, with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho getting involved in a very public row with his medical staff over the treatment of Eden Hazard during a match. As the season builds momentum, all clubs know one of the most vital aspects of winning trophies is keeping the best players fit so they can play at the top of their game as often as possible.

Last season, just like in every season, we saw injuries that affected teams’ results and possibly their final standings at the end of the season, while other teams capitalized. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger blamed injuries for the team’s failed title bid, while Real Madrid suffered injuries to players like Gareth Bale and Luka Modric at a crucial stage of the season and lost the title to Barcelona.

There’s no doubt that football clubs, especially the bigger teams, employ first-rate medical staff – physiotherapists, doctors, sports scientists, and so on – but they can only do so much to keep players off the treatment table. Players are human, after all, and keeping them injury-free for such long and grueling campaigns is a big ask. This season again will see players on the end of crunching tackles, over-exerting their bodies, and over-stretching.

What’s less talked about than lost games and league titles when discussing injuries is the salaries paid to injured players. The estimated average cost of player injuries in the top four professional football leagues in 2015 was $12.4 million* per team. Remarkably, every year teams lose an equivalent of 15%-30%** of their player payroll to injuries.

As salaries continue to rise, injuries are becoming just as much of an off-the-pitch boardroom issue as they are an on-the-pitch issue. Consider that if Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, the world’s highest-paid player, spends just a week out injured, the club still has to pay his weekly salary of around $1 million. Not only that, but there’s the huge potential for lost revenue from missing out on UEFA Champions League progress or domestic success because key players are out.

Just as winning seems to mean more than ever, so does football as a business. So with the spotlight firmly on “sweating the assets” – extracting maximum value from the entire squad – clubs are looking to Big Data and Internet of Things technology to consider how player injuries can be prevented with new levels of insight.

Prevention is better than cure

In July this year we saw what could be a huge landmark in the potential of monitoring the risk of injuries, when football’s international governing body FIFA announced its approval of wearable electronic performance and tracking systems during matches. As well as collecting data on statistics like distance covered and heart rate to determine decisions like substitution timings, this also paves the way for wearable satellite devices that keep medical staff updated on the likelihood of a player picking up an injury from over-exertion.

Emerging injury-risk monitoring software uses the concepts of Big Data and wearable technology to pull in and apply mathematical formulas to an exhaustive range of relevant data about players: fitness levels, recent levels of exertion, opponents, age, technique, hydration, even weather. This could help medical staff predict the risk of future injuries with much greater accuracy, allowing them to run simulations and take corrective actions in real time. Imagine a seemingly non-injured key player being substituted during a tightly contested match, only to find out afterwards that monitoring software had indicated he was at a high risk of pulling a muscle. This could very much be a part of the future of professional football.

Going back to Jose Mourinho and his reaction to the Chelsea medical staff running onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard, it’s interesting to consider how in the future this kind of technology could either support or discredit his position in the dispute. It could help managers work more closely with physiotherapists, as they can visualize the data that shows the risk of injury to players. Although the pressure to win will likely keep on rising, the risk of expensive players injuries could see a big reduction.

SAP’s own injury risk monitoring software is currently in the proof-of-concept phase and will be entering development in the near future. The goal is to build IRM on the SAP Sports One platform as an additional component, and to provide integration to the existing modules of SAP Sports One solution. SAP Sports One was launched earlier this year and is the first sports-specific cloud solution powered by the SAP HANA platform, providing a single, unified platform for team management and performance optimization.

*Statistic calulated using 2015 Global Sports Salaries Survey

**Bleacher Report “Inside the 2014 Numbers of Each MLB Team’s Regular-Season Injury Impact” and NBA Injury Analysis

Comments

Mark Goad

About Mark Goad

Mark Goad is a Client Partner at SAP. His specialties include social media, digital marketing, analytics, strategy and management.

Tags:

Big, Bad Data: How Talent Analytics Will Make It Work In HR

Meghan M Biro

Here’s a mind-blowing fact: Research from IBM shows that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. I find this fascinating.

Which means that companies have access to an unprecedented amount of information: insights, intelligence, trends, future-casting. In terms of HR, it’s a gold mine of Big Data.

This past spring, I welcomed the Industry Trends in Human Resources Technology and Service Delivery Survey, conducted by the Information Services Group (ISG), a leading technology insights, market intelligence, and advisory services company. It’s a useful study, particularly for leaders and talent managers, offering a clear glimpse of what companies investing in HR tech expect to gain from their investment.

Not surprisingly, there are three key benefits companies expect to realize from investments in HR tech:

• Improved user and candidate experience

• Access to ongoing innovation and best practices to support the business

• Speed of implementation to increase the value of technology to the organization.

It’s worth noting that driving the need for an improved user interface, access, and speed is the nature of the new talent surging into the workforce: people for whom technology is nearly as much a given as air. We grew up with technology, are completely comfortable with it, and not only expect it to be available, we assume it will be available, as well as easy to use and responsive to all their situations, with mobile and social components.

According to the ISG study, companies want HR tech to offer strategic alignment with their business. I view this as more about enabling flexibility in talent management, recruiting and retention — all of which are increasing in importance as Boomers retire, taking with them their deep base of knowledge and experience. And companies are looking more for the analytics end of the benefit spectrum. No surprise here that the delivery model will be through cloud-based SaaS solutions.

Companies also want:

• Data security

• Data privacy

• Integration with existing systems, both HR and general IT

• Customizability —to align with internal systems and processes.

Cloud-based. According to the ISG report, more than 50% of survey respondents have implemented or are implementing cloud-based SaaS systems. It’s easy, it’s more cost-effective than on-premise software, and it’s where the exciting innovation is happening.

Mobile/social. That’s a given. Any HCM tool must have a good mobile user experience, from well-designed mobile forms and ease of access to a secure interface.

They want it to have a simple, intuitive user interface – another given. Whether accessed via desktop or mobile, the solution must offer a single, unified, simple-to-use interface.

They want it to offer social collaboration tools, which is particularly key for the influx of Millenials coming into the workplace who expect to be able to collaborate via social channels. HR is no exception here. While challenging from a security and data protection angle, it’s a must.

But the final requirement the study reported is, in my mind, the most important: analytics and reporting. Management needs reporting to know their investment is paying off, and they also need robust analytics to keep ahead of trends within the workforce.

It’s not just a question of Big Data’s accessibility, or of sophisticated metrics, such as the key performance indicators (KPIs) that reveal the critical factors for success and measure progress made towards strategic goals. For organizations to realize the promise of Big Data, they must be able to cut through the noise and access the right analytics that will transform their companies for the better.

Given what companies are after, as shown in the ISG study, I predict that more and more companies are going to be recognizing the benefits of using integrated analytics for their talent management and workforce planning processes. Talent analytics creates a powerful, invaluable amalgam of data and metrics; it can identify the meaningful patterns within that data and metrics and, for whatever challenges and opportunities an organization faces, it will best inform the decision makers on the right tactics and strategies to move forward. It will take talent analytics to synthesize Big Data and metrics to make the key strategic management decisions in HR. Put another way, it’s not just the numbers, it’s how they’re crunched.

For more on the power of talent analytics, see Talent Analytics: Predicting HR’s Way Out Of The Fog.

Image source: Simonebrunozzi via Wikipedia

Comments