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What is Big Data Anyway?

Most IT professionals understand the definitions of Big Data, but what they often struggle with is understanding how to monetize Big Data to deliver new insights for their organization. Ninety percent of all data was created in the past two years and continues to grow without limits. Truth be told, most IT departments focus on keeping the lights on by making sure that the hardware in their data centers stays up and running to keep the business moving. Big Data analytics are often times a “nice to have” and not a “need to have” solely based on limited internal resources, direction from the C-suite, and investment from the business. However, as IT transforms, IT becomes the business!

Let’s take a step back and first identify what big data looks like. Data comes in generally two forms: structured and unstructured. Structured data is data that has a defined length and format, i.e. numbers, dates, groups of words, etc. Structured data can be machine generated, such as data that comes from medical devices (heart rate, blood pressure), manufacturing sensors (rotation per minute, temperature), or web server logs (number of times a page is visited). Structured data can also be human generated — data such as age, zip code, and gender. Think highly organized information that uploads neatly into a relational database, lives in fixed fields, and is easily detectable via search operations. 

Unstructured data is more subjective and is usually text-heavy. It generally cannot be put into a data structure, like columns or rows. Unstructured data can be found in documents, presentations, audio, images, videos, messages, and books. Unstructured data can also come from social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube, etc. An example might be a customer review that describes how they feel about a product or an experience, or a vending machine that not only dispenses products in a given area, but also collects and transmits data points from its customers to create predictive purchasing habits around flavor choices. These most popular choices can then be shipped to local stores. That’s how Big Data translates into more sales.

Let’s take another step back… 20 years ago, those who could afford a cell phone had phones that only performed inbound and outbound calls. Fast forward to today, those same people now have anywhere from five to seven smart devices, all of which are connected to the internet and perform numerous functions. Those same people and many, many more are taking, sharing, posting, and storing photos, texts, emails, and more every day from connected devices around the globe.

A quick trip down memory lane will have us remembering when data was measured in bytes, and KBs.  That quickly grew to include MBs, GBs, TBs, PTs and EBs. In 1982, the Commodore 64 personal computer boasted 64 KB of RAM. 2017 will bring us the iPhone 8 which will have 64 GB of storage in the palm of our hands. Industry experts predict that by 2020, there will be up to 44 ZB of data, and now the industry is recognizing the term yottabyte.

So now that we have identified what big data looks like, how do companies reach new markets, maximize existing customers, drive down costs, and increase profits? That’s the magic question. Big Data becomes Smart Data. Software is the underlying key to all of it. Working with a partner like IMPEX, that has the experience in this space to tie it all together, is critical to your company’s success.