Big dataIt’s tempting to listen to the hype about ‘Big Data’ and write it off as just another in a long line of ‘Next Big Things’ that’ll soon fizzle out. To do that, though, would be a major mistake. There’s nothing going on in technology that has more potential to transform not only your work, but also your personal life, as Big Data. I’m not suggesting you need to enroll in a ‘Become a Data Scientist in 60 Days’ class, but I do strongly recommend you keep yourself informed on the subject.

Let’s review the basics. According to Gartner, "Big data is high volume, high velocity, and/or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization". Big Data refers to collections of data that are beyond what ‘traditional’ database technology and analysis are capable of processing.

The “3 V’s” of Volume, Velocity, and Variety make Big Data truly different from what you’ve seen in the past. According to a Harvard Business Review article (Big Data: The Management Revolution, October 2012), 2.5 exabytes (an exabyte is a billion gigabytes) of data are created every single day. That’s incredible volume. From a velocity perspective, most new information is real-time, allowing much faster and more accurate decision making. And the variety of information is increasing at a rapid pace. You’re familiar with messages, voice communications, and so forth, but sensors, GPS, social media, and ongoing digitization of all forms of printed communication continues. Combine all this, and you have the makings for transformative technology.

You may well ask “we’ve always had tons of data around- why is this Big Data thing just hitting now? Well, the short answer is that technology has caught up with the problem of massive amounts of structured and unstructured data. New hardware and software to create, store, process, and analyze are now available and much more is on the way. In fact, you should already be familiar with a few examples of the use of Big Data, since Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Apple are all voracious consumers of it.

I know that as a supply chain professional you’re also wondering how Big Data could possibly affect your area of expertise. In a recent article on the GXS blog site (read it HERE), Mark Morley provides 3 great examples of how the Internet of Things (which is driven by Big Data) can affect supply chains:

  • Pervasive visibility of products across the supply chain, driven by RFID, sensors, and other connected devices.


  • Proactive replenishment in retail and vending machine environments, again supported by RFID, sensors, and networked devices.


  • Preventive equipment maintenance, again driven by sensors and heavy duty analytics of the voluminous data captured and reported by them.

That’s just a taste of what’s on the way. When you consider the multiple players, functions and processes that participate in a modern supply chain, you can be sure that the benefits will be real, and will be spectacular.

And how will your personal life change due to Big Data? Well, it already has, whether you know it or not. You get great movie recommendations from Netflix, product suggestions from Amazon, GPS enabled maps, weather-related cell phone warning messages, you’re able to control devices at home from far away using your cellphone, and many other enhancements to your life due to the analytics and capabilities enabled by Big Data. In many other, more subtle ways, though, you’ll experience others as more Big Data is analyzed and consumed. Preventive maintenance, for almost everything but especially for important transportation vehicles like cars and airplanes, will be greatly enhanced by advanced analytics applied to the volumes of data that sensors will produce. Medicine has huge potential to change, driven by the mountainous amount of patient, research, and other medical data available for analysis. Improved crop production will result from the use of sensors and data analysis in yield management…. I could go on and on. 

Look, Big Data is an important topic that can’t be adequately covered in a short article. If you want to go deeper into it, a simple Google search will provide links to plenty of reading material, and Buzz has posted a number of articles on this site about it as well. I’d also strongly recommend the book “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. Even if you have no interest in learning more, though, at least don’t let it slip off your radar. Big Data is the future and will markedly change your life in ways both big and small.
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