A Simple Guide to Big Data

‘Big Data’ is a term that is used more and more frequently. It is difficult to read an article about business development without it being mentioned. It is a simple term that some people feel awkward using as they feel the explanation should be as simple as the title is, but feel that behind the name are many complications.

Simply put, Big Data is the term used to describe the analysis of large data sets that cannot be worked on using traditional methods (such as manual and simple automated ways).

As technology advances, so does the ability to capture data. Data is useful only when it is analysed and an action plan is formed.

In 2001, analyst Doug Laney spoke of the growth in our access to data. He mentioned the ’3 Vs’:

  • Volume: Businesses have access to many different sources of data including their social media channels and machines for manufacturing. Previously there was no way to monitor this, but with many programs able to work this data, it is possible to track changes live
  • Velocity: Big Data is able to process data almost instantaneously. With the high volumes, programs must continuously adapt to this
  • Variety: Data comes in all forms; some is structured while most data is unstructured. The syntax is written so data may be read easily

Who and where uses Big Data?

Big Data is used by every industry; there are typically large teams of analysts working on the appropriate data sets. Industries include:

  • Banking and finance: Financial institutions use Big Data to help improve customer satisfaction, with a primary use being to detect fraud. Businesses that are making use of Big Data have large teams looking finding anomalies in data sets
  • Government: Government departments and public bodies use Big Data to tackle day to day issues like solving crime and population issues. Some departments are combining datasets to help decide on policy
  • Healthcare: Information including patient details and ailments along with treatments and prescriptions are stored together. These are used to analyse effective planning for treatment of illnesses and fully utilise the healthcare system
  • Retail: Big Data allows retailers to monitor when and how customers spend their money. They mine into the data and use this for specific promotions for each customer as well as planning key events throughout the year

How is Big Data used?

Big Data is analysed on programs using syntax. These programs need to continually improve to keep up with the large amounts of data running through their syntax.
Those analysing Big Data need to have strong statistical and logical skills. Statistical languages including SPSS, R, SAS and Matlab are still invaluable to work out the key findings from datasets.

Big Data has taken the world by storm and it is not going away. Job opportunities are increasing and once the basic concept is understood there are endless ways to utilise it.

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