Big Data Is Changing Every Industry, Even Yours!

July 2, 2014
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“You can never have too much data – bigger is always better” – the words of Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels.

His company is certainly a pioneer in big data – as I’ve previously covered – but all areas of industry, old and new, are cottoning on to the benefits of collecting and analysing every speck of data they can find.

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“You can never have too much data – bigger is always better” – the words of Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels.

His company is certainly a pioneer in big data – as I’ve previously covered – but all areas of industry, old and new, are cottoning on to the benefits of collecting and analysing every speck of data they can find.

Across manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, retail and beyond, the rate that data on every activity is collected – no matter how seemingly trivial – means more opportunities to fine-tune procedures and operations to squeeze out every last drop of efficiency.

Different industries have responded to the call in different ways of course. Retail and sales will rely on gleaning as much information about their customers’ lives as possible, while in manufacturing the emphasis is on streamlining operations.

Equipment calibration settings can be recorded and refined, and product storage environments monitored to determine the optimum conditions that lead to minimum spoilage and waste.

For global companies this can mean collecting and analyzing data from plants across the world, allowing minor variances to be studied and their results understood.

For example, last year pharmaceutical giants Merck used analysis to dramatically cut the amount of waste caused by variance in manufacturing environment conditions.

It took three months and involved 15 billion calculations on individual production data from 5.5 million vaccine batches. This allowed them to discover the optimum conditions during the fermentation process, and should greatly increase their yield, once the FDA has approved the proposed changes to the manufacturing process.

In the automobile industry, the advances made possible through advanced IT solutions and big data were called “an engine of innovation” in a recent report by the Centre for Automotive Research.

The report highlighted the growing complexity of cars and the industry as the biggest challenge faced by manufacturers – as well as the ways that are being found to tackle this through technology and data analytics.

The efficiency of every machine – and human – involved in the manufacturing process can be recorded so companies know what is working, and can make improvements where they are needed.

And in agriculture, data analysis is helping the industry meet the challenge of increasing the world’s food production by 60%, as forecasters have said will be necessary by 2050 due to the growing population.

John Deere fits sensors to its tractors and agricultural machinery and makes the readings available on its myjohndeere.com and Farmsight services. These help growers establish optimum conditions for their crops, and also lets John Deere forecast demand for spare parts.

Once a product has been made (or grown) it needs to be sold and distributed. The petabytes of data on customers (us) gathered by big retailers tells them who will want to buy it, and where they can be found.

Amazon uses its S3 system to keep track of millions of stock items across dozens of warehouses and distribution centres scattered around the globe. Operatives can track them in real-time to see what is where, and where it should be going.

And big advances like this by the major players will trickle down the corporate food chain – Amazon allow other businesses to licence this technology to help with their own operations. As time goes on, small and medium-sized companies will find the tools that the industry leaders have been putting to work are becoming available to them too.

With selling, retailers can use data to determine where stock should be displayed, which stores will sell most of which particular product and track customer movements around stores. Loyalty cards are not new but ever more sophisticated analysis of customer habits will lead to an increase with which retailers can predict what you will buy. This has advanced to the point where Amazon believes it will soon be able to predict what you will buy accurately enough to despatch it before you make the order. In other words, they have enough faith in their system that they believe the profits they make with each “hit” – a customer accepting a pre-emptive order – will outweigh the costs of covering outgoing and return postage and packaging of “misses”.

The Internet of Things will bring even more advances – as devices learn to talk to each other and cooperate, bringing connectivity into the real world. This week Cisco announced a $150 million fund for startups working on improving integration between the virtual and physical world.

For a business, the ability to have its production, stock control, distribution and security systems all connected and talking to each other will mean greater efficiency and less waste.

GE refer to this convergence of data and machinery as the “Industrial Internet” – and claim in can save global industry £150 billion in wastage.

Every area of industry is learning to reap the benefits of big data analysis, and it looks certain that finding innovative methods of gathering, recording and analyzing data is going to play a big part of business in the foreseeable future.

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Finally, please check out my other posts in The Big Data Guru column and feel free to connect with me via TwitterLinkedInFacebookslideshare and The Advanced Performance Institute.