The hype may be fad­ing, but ‘ big data’ is here to stay

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By MANRANJITH

Big data has be­come a catch­word in busi­ness cir­cles. One of­ten hears of com­pa­nies, en­ter­prises or even gov­ern­ments go­ing gaga over the tech­nol­ogy and the in­nu­mer­able eco­nomic ben­e­fits it brings in its train.

Like most ofmy peers, I have em­ployed the term of­ten, with­out really un­der­stand­ing what big data has in store.

So I was a bit taken aback when my old school friend called me up to getmy take on big data and how it is be­ing used ef­fec­tively in China.

Let me con­fess, my knowl­edge of big data till then was pe­riph­eral: that it was the huge amount of in­for­ma­tion cre­ated through on­line ac­tiv­i­ties and trans­ac­tions and some­thing that is used to dis­cover trends and make pre­dic­tions.

The quest for a more co­gent an­swer was, how­ever, an eye-opener of sorts.

I was sur­prised to learn that in the past five years, China has been at the fore­front of sev­eral pi­o­neer­ing big data ini­tia­tives and pri­vate en­ter­prises are show­ing the way.

In­ter­net search gi­ant Baidu Inc, for in­stance, is us­ing big data to understand and track dis­ease pat­terns, with the data be­ing of­fered to hos­pi­tals so they can stock the req­ui­site medicines and per­son­nel dur­ing epi­demic out­breaks.

Ten­cen­tHold­ings Ltd, the tech firm that runs theWeChat mo­bile chat net­work, is us­ing so­cial data to iden­tify trend­set­ters across cat­e­gories for tar­get mar­ket­ing.

While Alibaba GroupHold­ing Ltd, China’s largest e-commerce com­pany, is us­ing a wealth of fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion from its Taobao and Ali­pay chan­nels to iden­tify po­ten­tial fund­ing can­di­dates.

“When in­dus­try be­gins to make bet­ter use of big data, it will definitely make a big dif­fer­ence,” said Liu Pinyuan, an ex­pert on smart cities at the China Acad­emy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, adding that al­though gov­ern­ment use of big data is still in its in­fancy, pol­i­cy­mak­ers are well abreast of its huge value.

Ac­cord­ing to Liu, the forth­com­ing 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) will in­clude a na­tional big data strat­egy, with an added em­pha­sis on open­ing and shar­ing of data re­sources.

But some ex­perts be­lieve that big data is al­ready los­ing steam.

Global mar­ket re­search firm Gart­ner Inc in its lat­est re­port says that while big data en­joyed big hype in 2014, it has all but fallen off the “map for 2015”.

Part of the rea­son why the hype is fiz­zling out is be­cause most of the tech­nolo­gies that were big news last year, are al­ready in use and are no longer big news, Gart­ner said.

Ber­nan­rdMarr, a lead­ing global ex­pert on big data, how­ever, presents a dif­fer­ent spin.

The Gart­ner re­port does not im­ply that big data is no longer rel­e­vant, he said. Rather, most of the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies men­tioned by Gart­ner like au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, ma­chine learn­ing, and the In­ter­net of Things, all pro­duce and rely on ever-larger quan­ti­ties of data.

Marr goes on to but­tress the point with some mind-bog­gling data of his own.

“We are pos­i­tively swim­ming in it, and that’s not go­ing to change.

“By 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of newin­for­ma­tion will be cre­ated ev­ery sec­ond for ev­ery hu­man be­ing on the planet. By then, ac­cu­mu­lated dig­i­tal knowl­edge will be around 44 zettabytes, or 44 tril­lion gi­ga­bytes, up from just 4.4 zettabytes to­day,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing toMarr, the prob­lem is that the abil­ity to prop­erly an­a­lyze big data and draw­con­clu­sions from it is not keep­ing pace with the rate at which it is be­ing cre­ated.

“Only 0.5 per­cent of the data we cre­ate is ever an­a­lyzed and used.

“Imag­ine the po­ten­tial that ex­ists in even an­other frac­tion of that in­for­ma­tion? Just a 10 per­cent in­crease in data ac­ces­si­bil­ity will re­sult in more than $65 mil­lion ad­di­tional net in­come for a typ­i­cal For­tune 1,000 com­pany,” he said.

Much likeMarr, I also be­lieve that big data will per­sist, and it will be­come an even big­ger part of ev­ery­day life, whether it’s hyped up or not, due to the sheer eco­nomics be­hind it.

Af­ter all, in a knowl­edge-driven ecosys­tem, who can make do with­out big data?

Con­tact the writer at manranjith@chi­


An em­ployee dis­plays a big data con­trol plat­form to high­light pub­lic safety events at an e-commerce fair in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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