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FCW : February 2014
In traditional analytics, a static, structured pool of data 10 tera- bytes in size or smaller allows analysts to make hypothesis-based analyses that lead to internal deci- sion support and services, Daven- port wrote. Big data, on the other hand, is a constant ow of unstruc- tured data that is 100 terabytes to petabytes in size, and it is typically analyzed through machine learn- ing and algorithms to create useful data-based products. Davenport warns that decision- makers in the public and private sectors should be wary of over- hyped big-data solutions that do little more than traditional analytics. Where is big data and why is it important? Successful big-data implementa- tions abound in several industries, typically in data-rich arenas such as retail, travel and transportation, telecommunications, health care, media, and nancial services. Dav- enport interviewed executives at UPS, Bank of America and United- Healthcare, among others, to pro- duce some astonishing examples of big data put to use. UnitedHealthcare, for instance, converts records of customer con- versations with call centers into text and uses a variety of big-data tools to analyze the data for senti- ment analysis. If customers are unhappy, the company can react appropriately even if it cannot lis- ten to each call. Imagine if the Internal Revenue Service or the Department of Veter- ans Affairs did that --- in terms of both the improved services and the privacy concerns that could result. Some of those big-data strate- gies lead to big savings. UPS stores 16 petabytes of data, part of which relates to the 40 million package- tracking requests per day, but Dav- enport said the company has also used big data to improve vehicle and route ef ciencies. Sensors on each of its 40,000 vehicles monitor speed, braking, drive-train per- formance and direction. The data helps the company monitor daily performance and has contributed to a major redesign of UPS drivers routes. "UPS estimates that saving only one daily mile per driver saves the company $30 million," Davenport wrote. The book does not have many big-data examples from govern- ment, but possibilities abound. The intelligence community s vast stores of surveillance data --- tril- lions of phone records, Internet searches and other data --- is prob- ably the government s best big-data use case, but the Census Bureau, NASA, IRS and other data-rich agencies also have access to infor- mation pools that rival any private- sector organization s. And Davenport s book does share lessons from large compa- nies, including tips for selling big- data initiatives to executives and how best to estimate investment returns, opportunities and risks. The human factor Ultimately, the importance of big data lies in the human element. It takes new management approaches because "big data ips [traditional long-term business planning] on its head." "The basic tenet is that the world and the data that describes it are in a constant state of change and ux, and those organizations that can recognize and react quick- ly and [intelligently] have the upper hand," Davenport wrote. "The prized business and IT capabilities are discovery and agility rather than stability." In other words, big data does not mesh with the IT approaches that still de ne most agency initia- tives. Something will have to give before it becomes a dominant force in decision-making in the federal sector. The human factor also encom- passes data scientists, a new breed of quantitative analysts who can code and tweak algo- rithms to produce applications and visualizations from big data. Davenport s book offers insight into the kinds of people organiza- tions should hire as they explore big-data initiatives, and it pro- vides several helpful case studies, including one on the importance data scientists played in Linked- In s phenomenal growth. So is big data really a big deal? Davenport believes it is, but even as technology continues to evolve by leaps and bounds, the real potential will hinge on people more than anything else. ■ Bookshelf 32 February 2014 FCW.COM The prized business and IT capabilities are discovery and agility rather than stability.
March 15, 2014