How big data will change our lives

30 Jan, 2019

The phrase “big data” itself unnerved some of us a few years ago. And in light of recent worries concerning improper use of personal data, it’s taken on a sinister note for some. But the increasingly huge wealth of data about every aspect of life now available is one of the miracles of the connected computing era. We create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and that figure is also increasing daily. Despite the valid concerns about the misuse of personal data, all this information has the potential to revolutionise every area of our lives in beautifully beneficial ways.

The key ingredient is how you interpret and use all that data and we’re only just scratching the surface of what can be achieved with all the information. This is because big data is by definition beyond what traditional data-processing application software is designed to cope with. Research group Gartner’s Doug Laney coined the “3 Vs” to define big data back in 2001, standing for volume, velocity and variety. More recently variability, veracity and complexity have been suggested as additions.

What all these parameters are intended to illustrate is that it’s not just the amount of information that defines “big data”, but the speed at which it is arriving and the many different categories involved. Both the number of cases and the attributes for each one are orders of magnitude larger than previous data repositories. For example, wearables such as sports watches are collecting a wealth of information about people’s exercise habits and this often includes details like heart rates, location throughout a routine, cadences for cycling and running, and even blood oxygen levels.

Businesses now rely on the data they collect about their customers, so how this is used effectively by employees is paramount. The modern era of “digital” companies like Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb are more about how they use the data they collect than what they actually trade in or produce. There is a huge debate about the relationship between these kinds of companies and their users. In the case of pure data companies like Facebook, there is a more complex value exchange than traditional commerce. With the latter, the customer parts with money and receives a product or service in return.

But with a company like Facebook or Google, the end user doesn’t part with any money for the service they receive – such as social network media sharing or internet search results, email and cloud-based applications. Instead, what they exchange is their personal information. Data is the currency that users spend to receive the services provided. Regulatory frameworks like GDPR have arisen in recognition of the value of the data users part with when they access these services. However, many users don’t realise (or care) how much personal data they are giving away. The entertainment and social interaction they receive in return is sufficient to make them feel that they get more back than they spend.

All businesses collect data about their users, and whether or not users feel uncomfortable about this depends on how this information is used, as well as what they get in return. At one end of the scale, passing on personal details for third-party marketing purposes is not usually appreciated. However, the ability to use a system like Apple Pay to order a food delivery using just a thumbprint to verify identity and transfer the necessary funds is much more convenient than digging in your pocket for a credit card. Handing over your credit card details to Apple is necessary for this convenience. When this process also passes on your address details to the delivery company automatically, it’s an even more seamless experience.

This is just the smallest tip of the iceberg. Big data promises to make emerging services like car sharing meet end user needs more seamlessly. Putting aside those who own cars for enthusiast reasons, the biggest barrier preventing people from switching to car sharing from personal ownership is the fear of not having their vehicle available exactly when they need it. But accurate predictive analysis of behaviour, bringing in factors like weather, current events and even personal habits, could mean that there is always a car nearby when required, because the data analysis calculated that you would. Perhaps a little spooky, but undeniably convenient. The ability of services like Uber and Airbnb to match provision with need is already showing the potential from well-honed analysis of behavioural data. Similarly, Amazon’s grasp of supply-chain flow allows it to deliver many products the next day, or even the same day.

Over the next few years, the amount of information we share and is amassed about the world around us is set to increase exponentially. Virtually all companies can potentially benefit from collecting the right data and analysing it appropriately. Internet of Things devices, like per-room home thermostats, per-socket power consumption monitoring, health monitoring patches and connected cars with real-time tracking, are set to proliferate. These will be providing huge volumes of data and new possibilities of analysis. The relationship between health and lifestyle, for example, can be explored continually to find improvements.

The bandwidth available to wireless devices will be an order of magnitude higher, too, with 5G already being tested in the UK, for example O2’s trial at the O2 Arena in North Greenwich, London. When 5G is eventually introduced it will allow wireless data speeds up to 1,000 times faster than 4G, and promises much lower latency too. In combination with the Internet of Things revolution, 5G will further enable the exponential growth of data accumulation, particularly real-time supply from intensive sources like video surveillance.

Big data also has the power to make jobs easier for workers in critical areas such as emergency services. Police in the UK, for instance, are already using ‘predictive crime mapping’, where huge amounts of data on crime types, locations and times are processed to generate hotspot maps showing officers where crime is most likely to occur. The NHS, too, has a rich pool of patient data on which to draw. This can aid doctors in everything from recognising the warning signs of diabetes to effectively managing patient flow and ward demand during busy winter months.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this feature, there are potential dangers from all this data. But with the right safeguards and observance of regulations, the fears people have can be allayed, allowing the benefits to shine through. O2, in its business blog post “What does the future of big data look like?”, highlights how regulations like GDPR can be viewed as an opportunity for companies, rather than a threat. Testing your data for compliance should be seen as a chance to review what is being collected and how it is used, with the aim of finding untapped potential. Rather than just being an unwanted extra cost, this process can truly uncover the beautiful future possibilities of big data.

Discover how O2’s technology is helping businesses empower their workforce.

Cisco reveals new tools and networking products for IoT

Clare Hopping

30 Jan, 2019

Cisco has confirmed its commitment to the IoT, with the announcement of new developer tools, networking products and partnerships to establish its position in the IoT world.

The first major facilitator is the launch of its Catalyst industrial switches and integrated services routers that have been specifically built for IoT environments. Both tools are managed by Cisco DNA Center that allows businesses to manage their infrastructure in a single area, even if they’re being used across environments.

“In IoT, the conversation is about business outcomes. It starts with secure connectivity as the foundation of every IoT deployment. By providing scale, flexibility and security, we’re turning the network into a secret weapon for our IoT customers,” said Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager, IoT at Cisco.

An extension of Cisco’s IoT developer tools within its DevBet IoT developer centre will make it easier for creators to integrate Cisco’s IoT networking solutions into their apps and services.

“With a new DevNet IoT developer center, we’re empowering thousands of partners and developers around the world to build upon our IoT platform,” Centoni said.

Cisco also said it wants to work closer with resellers, ISVs, manufacturers and service providers to spread the reach of its IoT programme. By providing the hardware and software tools businesses need to embrace the IoT world, Cisco believes it can make a difference to a whole host of industries, particularly manufacturing, utilities and remote and mobile assets. It has recently unveiled validated designs for those industries to get them up and running faster.

“We closely collaborated with Cisco on Cisco’s new compact, low-power industrial router to meet the stringent environmental and safety standards used in the utilities industry,” said Didier Hinguant, telecom director at Cisco partner Enedis.“We operate and deploy our connected grid with thousands of Cisco routers via Field Network Director zero touch provisioning, with an agile, highly secure and future proof network using IPv6 to address our scalability constraints.”

SAP reveals impressive Q4 results, but still considers restructure

Clare Hopping

30 Jan, 2019

SAP has unveiled its fourth quarter financials, presenting year-on-year revenue growth of 9%. The company said it met or exceeded all expectations, although has made the decision to restructure its business to take advantage of new opportunities on the horizon.

Operating profit increased by 22% over the entire year, with new cloud bookings up a quarter during the final period of 2018 and cloud subscriptions and revenues rising by 41%.

“In 2018, SAP hit or exceeded all guidance metrics even after multiple raises. With Qualtrics joining SAP, we are now poised to revolutionize the business software industry with Experience Management,” said Bill McDermott, CEO at SAP.

“With a consistent track record of unprecedented growth behind us, we are leading our stakeholders forward to bridge the experience gap. Our strategy is innovative, complete and alone at the forefront of the experience economy.”

Although cloud revenues were a big winner for the company, with S/4HANA contributing nicely to its overall performance, the company’s software revenues fell by 5% year-on-year and it’s increasingly relying on its cloud services to keep its growth in an upwards direction.

“It will be interesting to see whether SAP will announce a continuation of the Q3 trend of cloud eclipsing software,” said George Lawrie, Forrester VP and principal analyst.

“The company’s operating profit demonstrated a marked improvement in Q3 and I expect that as cloud deployments accelerate this will improve even further.”

Although these results were pretty impressive, the company explained it wants to innovate to keep up with its competitors and to lessen the impact of retiring employees.

It may let go up to 3,000 of its current employees to boost profitability and reach its goals of reaching €35 billion in revenues.

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