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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.

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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.

How Better Clinical Trial Recruitment Can Improve Healthcare

Dr. Harald Sourij

Patients want to be certain that they receive the best treatment available, and clinicians want to ensure they’re delivering optimal care. Unfortunately, in many cases, providers can’t be confident they are delivering care that will result in the best outcome because their treatment may not be current or informed by proven medical findings. Time is of the essence when it comes to care—and clinicians often lack sufficient time to research treatment best practices while treating patients.

Clinical research is an important component of patient care. Treatment should be based on the outcomes from clinical trials. However, evidence that is based on clinical trials is not always available to help providers recommend one medication or course of treatment over another.

The number of clinical trials is increasing significantly, but trials cannot be successful without enough participants to gather evidence. Recruiting participants can be challenging, and it can be difficult to match the right participants with studies. Approximately one out of three clinical trials fails to meet recruitment targets, so the sample size becomes too small to draw scientifically justified conclusions. The remaining two-thirds of trials recruit participants slowly. The effort becomes costly and time-consuming.

Recruitment failure in clinical trials is a major concern in the healthcare industry. It may seem unethical to ask trial participants for time and engagement and potentially expose them to some risk. However, if researchers are not successful in recruiting participants, they may never find answers to some of the most pressing medical research questions.

Big data eases recruitment pain points

New digital tools are starting to help researchers do a better job attracting, matching, and including appropriate clinical trial participants. Technology is also helping to facilitate and improve the patient recruitment process. One key is leveraging the Big Data that already exists in healthcare organizations.

Unfortunately, patient data is often unstructured and lives in disparate systems, so it’s difficult for researchers to identify potential participants. For instance, study nurses have traditionally helped identify subjects who fulfill research study criteria, but they have been held back by the need to sift through files of paper-based patient records. Technology enables researchers extract information from electronic medical records to quickly identify potential study participants.

Using data strategically can not only improve recruitment rates, but it also ensure that participants are a good fit with a particular study. Clinic physicians don’t always ask patients if they are interested in participating in clinical research because they lack the time or don’t have sufficient knowledge of specific trials. Now the records of prospective participants can be flagged, enabling clinicians to discuss the study with them during routine medical care.

patient recruiment analytics

Of course, the ultimate goal of clinical research is improving patient care and outcomes, and improving the clinical trial recruitment process helps do just that and more. Process optimization through automation of time-consuming patient screening improves collaboration, saves time, and facilitates the research process for all end users.

Automated patient recruitment benefits hospitals and healthcare systems and improves patient outcomes by increasing physicians’ awareness of clinical trials. It also benefits life science companies and contract research organizations (CROs) by optimizing trial design and protocol based on eligible patients and reducing research and development cycle time and costs.

Clinical trials set stage for better patient outcomes

Center for Biomarker Research in Medicine (CBmed) is working on an innovative software application to help researchers find and screen eligible patients for clinical trials. While the application is still under development, it aims to address common recruitment challenges.

CBmed and the University Hospital Graz are looking into a trial data model that can store all relevant information, create a trial manually or import details from clinicaltrials.gov to reduce manual intervention, automatically match patient data from electronic medical records, and enter criteria tolerance to improve eligible patient screening results. More information on the CBmed project, Innovative Use of Information for Clinical Care, and Biomarker Research (IICCAB) can be found here.

I began working in clinical research because I wanted to find answers to the questions patients ask every day about their own care. Technological innovation is enabling faster, better clinical trials by improving the participant recruitment process, and it will ultimately lead to evidence-based, life-changing, and life-saving treatments for patients.

For more on how technology can help improve patient outcomes, see Patient Engagement: Key To High-Value Care.

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Dr. Harald Sourij

About Dr. Harald Sourij

Harald Sourij is the the Deputy Director of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetology and the Head of the Diabetes Outpatient Clinic at the Medical University of Graz, Austria. He also leads the Area Metabolism and Inflammation at the Center for Biomarker Research in Medicine (CBmed) in Graz, Austria. His research activities focus mainly on diabetes and its cardiovascular complications. Harald has published over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters in highly ranked journals including The Lancet, European Heart Journal, and Diabetes Care. He is a member of the European Diabetes Association and of the Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease Study Group of the EASD and is currently the Treasurer of the Austrian Diabetes Association. He has been awarded the Langerhans Award of the Austrian Diabetes Association in 2013 and the Joseph Skoda Award of the Austrian Society for Internal Medicine in 2015. He served as Associate Editor for the scientific journal Trials (2013-2105).

How To Benefit From Upgrading Your Digital Mindset

Derek Klobucher

More technologies are simultaneously reaching maturity than at any other time in recent memory. Getting the most out of cloud, mobile, Big Data, Internet of Things, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other maturing technologies will require organizations to open themselves to new ways of thinking.

Technology providers will have to open their minds too, which is one reason for the creation of a new digital innovation system. The system focuses on its users’ business outcomes, especially those driven by maturing technologies such as IoT, according to Stacy Crook, IDC research director of IoT.

“The big strategy for IoT is … to tie people with things and processes,” Crook recently told TechTarget. “[There is] deep industry knowledge and a lot of information that will be useful in these IoT workflows.”

But users seeking to make the most of that information – and IoT workflows – must change their way of thinking. And while the Internet is full of listicles defining digital mindset, there is a new four-part definition that includes investing in next-generation technology.

Improving problem solving and employee engagement

“Leaders [in digital transformation] report a high level of investment in cloud computing and enterprise mobility, double-digit growth in Big Data and analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT), and hypergrowth in machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said a new SAP study conducted with Oxford Economics.

A digital transformation driven by a digital innovation system has already empowered Caterpillar Inc.’s workforce to fix problems in real time – and to improve business outcomes. The system yielded outstanding employee engagement for the Peoria-based manufacturing giant during a recent project, according to Marty Groover, Business Construction Products Operational Technology manager at Caterpillar.

“Without having to go pull all of the data out of the system, it automatically starts driving that cognitive use of the data to solve issues in the moment so we can produce better quality of processes and products,” Grover said of Digital Manufacturing Insights at SAP Leonardo Live July 11-12. “The hourly employees love it and want more of it.”

But just because users enjoy digital technology doesn’t mean that they started out in favor of it.

A digital transformation pilot freed up 85% of nurses’ time, InCor’s Guilherme Rabello (on screen) said at SAP Leonardo Live. The nurses spent less time writing down data points, so they could spend more time connecting with their patients.

Winning over reluctant workers

There can be many obstacles to digital transformation, from a lack of leadership to an absence of change-management expertise, as the SAP/Oxford study noted. But buy-in among conservative medical professionals was critical at the largest heart hospital in Latin America, according to Guilherme Rabello, Commercial and Market Intelligence manager at InCor (Instituto do Coração – UCFMUSP).

“We had to convince them that … the technology was not dragging them out of their main service, but assisting them to provide even better care to their patients,” Rabello said at SAP Leonardo Live. “So we engaged with all of them upfront, and we showed them why we were doing [what we were doing].”

InCor’s uptake of the digital innovation system was quick, especially for younger medical professionals who are comfortable in digital environments, according to Rabello. And the pilot freed up 85% of InCor nurses’ time; because they spent less time writing down data points, they could spend more time connecting with their patients.

Streamlining high-speed train operations

Just as a physician wants patients to stay healthy – without unnecessary treatment – Italy’s primary train operator wants the most efficient way to keep its trains running optimally, according to Danilo Gismondi, CIO of Trenitalia Spa. Big Data analytics uses data from each train’s myriad IoT sensors – 10,000 sensors sending more than 5,000 signals per second – to help Trenitalia minimize downtime and maintenance costs by fixing trains when demands – not schedules – dictate.

“We were looking for an end-to-end platform – not a single solution – but something able to manage the huge amount of data coming from the sensors onboard,” Gismondi said of the dynamic maintenance management system, at SAP Leonardo Live. “The platform must manage this data, transforming the information for the decision makers and the maintainers.”

“We were looking for an end-to-end platform — not a single solution — but something able to manage the huge amount of data coming from the sensors onboard,” Trenitalia’s Danilo Gismondi said at SAP Leonardo Live. Each train has about 10,000 sensors sending more than 5,000 signals per second.

Additionally, cutting-edge statistical methodology predicts malfunctions and breakdowns, which helps Trenitalia improve its maintenance processes – and its service to about 2 million passengers each day. It also helps spot faults or glitches, which might have otherwise taken a perfectly good train out of service for unnecessary maintenance.

Maturing technologies – and mindsets

“What sets the leaders apart is that they have internalized the need to transform how they think as well as what they do – to create a digital mindset across the organization,” the SAP/Oxford study said. “This is the difference between saying ‘we need a mobile app’ and ‘we need new ways to serve customers in the ways they want to be served.’”

Caterpillar, InCor, and Trenitalia chose to seek new ways to serve their customers, evolving their mindsets and maturing their business models concurrently with maturing technology, such as IoT and Big Data. Benefits include increased employee engagement, greater efficiency, minimal equipment downtime, and reduced maintenance costs.

Click here for the SAP/Oxford study.

This story originally appeared on SAP’s Business Trends. Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher

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Derek Klobucher

About Derek Klobucher

Derek Klobucher is a Financial Services Writer and Editor for Sybase, an SAP Company. He has covered the exchanges in Chicago, European regulation in Dublin and banking legislation in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Northwestern University in Evanston.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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Why HR Is The New Marketing

Michael Brenner

In a world of infinite media choices, the best way to reach new buyers and new talent might be right under your nose. Your own employees represent the greatest opportunity to create meaningful marketing and to develop human resources programs that increase sales, while also finding and retaining top talent. Is HR the new marketing?

In the battle for new talent, HR departments have been forced to expand their role from hiring and firing, overseeing personnel systems and processes, and handling benefit management to include leadership development and training, employer branding, and diversity initiatives.

HR has been forced to adopt strategies that look, well, very much like marketing. These days, HR develops campaigns to grow employer awareness, to build the employer brand as a “great place to work,” and to retain top talent—all traditional marketing objectives.

While many in HR have embraced these traditional marketing skills, the most effective companies are moving beyond HR simply applying marketing techniques to a whole new opportunity. These effective companies are actually activating employees as a new marketing channel to achieve both HR and marketing objectives.

Proceed with caution

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving the potential of employees as a new marketing channel is the perception of marketing as advertising.

Asking (or forcing) your employees to share product content on their social media channels is just as dangerous as asking them to share (or guilting them into sharing) what a great place your company is to work.

Consumers are increasingly ignoring and blocking advertising messages, with some research even suggesting that promotional messages from brands can have the opposite of their intended effect. These misguided efforts can actually cause sales to decline!

While some employees may authentically share their excitement and passion for the products they work on, the projects they are engaged in, and the company they work for (and we should celebrate that), this is not a sustainable strategy for getting new customer or talent.

Content marketing and HR

Content marketing has emerged as one of the hottest trends in marketing. Marketers are learning to think and act like publishers to create entertaining, interesting, or helpful content that consumers actually want to read and share (vs. promotional ads). And this approach allows a brand to reach, engage, convert and retain new customers.

The opportunity to activate employees to achieve marketing and HR objectives starts by creating content they naturally want to share.

As the first VP of content marketing at SAP, I learned to tap into the power of my fellow employees to create a marketing program that delivered massive ROI. The biggest lesson I learned: HR is the new marketing!

With a limited budget for content, I asked our internal experts to write articles on whatever they wanted. We had one editorial rule: no product promotion. Our internal experts could explore their professional or personal passions and interests, even if it meant writing about cat videos. Because somewhere out in the world, I believed there was a potential customer, employee, partner or investor who might also loved cat videos. (No one ever wrote about cat videos. Bummer!)

I even created a slideshare deck to explain the value for these employees/budding content marketers:

  • Grow your personal brand
  • Increase or establish your authority on the topics you are interested in
  • Gain new social media followers
  • Maybe even find that new job or get promoted

We also encouraged this behavior by publicly recognizing our top articles and authors each week in a round-up post. We made rock stars of the best performers as their social connections and influence increased. And this drove more employees to sign up.

Today, that site has hundreds of employee contributors. All are growing their personal brand, while expressing their passions and expertise to the world. And many of the employees who don’t write articles voluntarily share the content with their social connections.

As LinkedIn’s own Jason Miller mentioned in his article, the trick is to define what’s in it for them.

Why does this work?

Because you can create massive momentum when we combine the needs of our customers, our employees, and our company based on THEIR own distinct interests:

  • Companies want more loyal customers and talented employees.
  • Employees want purpose and meaningful work that has real impact on their career and the world.
  • Customers want to form relationships with brands on their terms and based on their self-interest

What you can do to activate HR as the new marketing

1. Create a customer-centric vision

Look around your organization, and you will see people above you, below you, and beside you. The traditional org chart still exists to focus on your position in the hierarchy. But where’s the customer? Where is the customer in your org chart? 

Even if your company mission isn’t customer-centric (“we are the leading provider of widgets”), your marketing vision must be. And there is one simple formula to get there:

Become a sought-after destination for which topicin order to deliver what customer value or impact.

2. Create content employees who want to share

According to LinkedIn, the combined connections of employees on the LinkedIn platform is 10 times larger than any company’s followers. And just 3 percent of company employees sharing branded content generate 30 percent of the views and clicks on that content.

Platforms such as LinkedIn Elevate, social selling programs, and other tools can dramatically increase the reach of your content, grow your company’s social presence, and improve the effectiveness of marketing programs — without spending a single dollar on paid media.

But you have to create content your employees want to share. You might even ask them to help you. The trick is to explain what’s in it for them: creating or sharing content can help them build more connections, establish relationships with other leaders in your industry, and grow their personal brand so they can achieve happiness in their careers.

3. Measure the results

Measure the impact of your employee content sharing for your company. Demonstrate how it has benefited the employees (increased connections, awards, and recognition). Discuss ways to profile your best customers as well.

And partner with your colleagues across HR, marketing, and sales to determine the best ways to continuously optimize what is working for everyone.

If you’re in marketing, it’s time to start thinking about your colleagues in HR as your new best friend. And if you’re in HR, it’s time to think about how marketing can help you acquire and retain the best talent — while making the leadership team happy as well.

For more strategies that create a culture that drives business growth, see Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees.

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Michael Brenner

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.