By Sandra Hanchard and Tirath Ramdas
Big Data has the potential to have an enduring impact on every part of society, but the devil is in the details. How will various groups be affected? Will some benefit more than others? These questions brought together professionals from diverse sectors, including technology, business, government and education during an interactive workshop, Big Data in Market Research and Beyond, organised by Big Data Malaysia on 1st February 2013 at iTrain, Kuala Lumpur.
Organisations that were represented included Acunu, Experian Hitwise, Integricity Interactive (now VLT), MDeC, Telekom Malaysia R&D, Twistcode and more. Participants were randomly assigned into vertical groups to consider in detail: How will stakeholders be affected by the increasing availability of analysable data? How will stakeholders achieve improved outcomes by exploiting data sources that are practically unavailable today and that will become practically available within the next 3 years? What are the internal and external inhibitors to the exploitation of Big Data e.g. technology gaps, regulatory or organisational issues?
Participants reminded us that government stakeholders are already collectors of Big Data, with census surveys a case in point. The gaps in exploiting Big Data exist in analytics, both from an internal view of information management and external facing data provision; although emerging open data initiatives are encouraging. One example of a problem where sophistication in analytics could leverage government data assets was urban and traffic planning, a problem in Kuala Lumpur that all residents enjoy complaining about. Releasing more of this planning data publically, for example, could allow developers to increase the accuracy of traffic mash-ups.
Big businesses, according to participants, are already well-positioned to collect and analyse massive volumes of data. However, there were structural problems inherent in big businesses constraining how they are able to act on insights derived from Big Data. One problem included a lack of agility in responding to faster rates of monitoring changing conditions and new trends. Another inhibitor was entrenched cultures of inertia, such as employees not wanting to innovate themselves out of a comfortable job.
Small businesses, in contrast, were potentially under threat given that Big Data would enhance the ability of big businesses to data mine for niches that were traditionally served by small businesses. One illustration was the local laundry that has commonly been the domain of small business owners; Big Data could provide greater visibility to demographic and migratory information over a wider coverage to enable franchise business models to develop. Participants also suggested that, excluding well-funded start-ups, the barrier to entry to Big Data solutions will prove prohibitively high for most small businesses, given the perceived cost.
Participants considering the segment of individuals, consumers, and families argued that there are a number of applications where Big Data promises to fulfil various needs. Examples included healthcare, education, and personal finance. However, in the current direction of how Big Data is monetised, individuals and consumers are essentially treated as ‘products’ rather than end-users, indicating that this segment will become increasingly under-served.
There were many more questions raised than answered in the brave new world of Big Data during this workshop. It was a fruitful exercise to cross-fertilise the various degrees of excitement and reservation felt by professionals across a wide-spectrum of sectors. Most agreed however that now was the time for stakeholders to consider how they would be affected by Big Data and to plan strategically.