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Describing Future Patterns with Today’s Big Data

Big Data is one of the biggest buzzwords in IT and business right now. At the same time, it’s often a misunderstood concept. Big Data is not just about large amounts of data, as the term might lead you to expect; it’s also a tool that can help you predict the future.

Let’s start with the basics: what is Big Data, and how does it differ from other kinds of data? Gartner defines it as, “High-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.”

The adjective “big” actually only points to high volumes. And rightly so: we are storing more and more data digitally. To make a comparison, in 2020 we will store 50 times more data than in 2010 and that will continue to grow exponentially. The amounts of data being collected are too large to expect long-term storage of every bit and byte of raw information, leading to the emergence of new realms of technology such as on-the-fly analysis, event-stream processing and distributed stream computing platforms.

But just as important is the tremendous speed with which data becomes available (high velocity) and the various manifestations or formats available (high variety). Think about sensors that transmit reading every few seconds or so (leading back to that subject of volume), and about how much information today is conveyed through digital photographs, text messages, videos, sound recordings, even emoticons—what we call “unstructured” data.

Software solution providers are the logical “collection bins” for big data in their various domains, and the logical presentation vehicles for the results of analytics. For example, affordable sensors are now available that can measure the occupancy of a workplace or meeting room minute-by-minute, and enable detailed occupancy analysis with the right software. IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management Systems) enable the reservation of meeting rooms, specific workspaces, or even the ability to book a flexible workplace on the go. That information, combined with sensor technology, creates a powerful combination.

Here’s why: The best thing about data is that it can sometimes provide an answer to a question that you have not even asked. If you have access to a lot of data, business analytics enables you to go in search of possible correlations between various factors that are available in your datasets. This emerging field is known as “data discovery.”

What would you say if Big Data enabled you to predict, fairly accurately, when a meeting room will become available, how many employees are coming to your facility tomorrow and what their preference for lunch is? Or exactly how long it will take you to get to the office tomorrow based on the weather, and the best type of transportation to use?

What Big Data allows us to do is describe future patterns by observing patterns of the past. This kind of analysis is also referred to by the term “Predictive” or – if it provides a recommended course of action—“Prescriptive” Analytics. This is a development that emerged in the consumer market with a focus on marketing and the prediction of consumer behavior. However, IDC predicts that by 2020 half of all business analytics software – not just that associated with marketing – will incorporate prescriptive analytics built on cognitive computing functionality.

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