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What's so big about Big Data?

At this point in your life, you have probably been targeted by hundreds, or even thousands of people, all trying to collect data about you and your habits. You may have been contacted over the phone by a telemarketer, or maybe you were contacted in the form of an online survey and asked to give your opinion on a product.  Maybe you’ve had a visitor at your doorstep and have been asked to provide information on your political beliefs. Maybe you don’t even realize that you have been providing information about yourself and your habits every time you go grocery shopping and swipe that trusty rewards card. Regardless of how or why you are targeted, the point is that you are targeted for information, for your data, and it will never stop, because data is that important!

Have you ever wondered why Mr. XYZ wants to know when you last replaced your furnace filter, or how many cats you have living in your basement and what brand of food you buy for them? Well the answer is “big data.” It is about time that everyone realizes that “big data” is real, and utilizing it is one of the most important and sought after abilities one can leverage. In short, “big data” refers to any large amount of data that has been collected and has the ability to be mined for information. This collection of data may or may not be structured in a certain way. It may have been acquired from multiple sources. To the average eye, this data may seem to have no evident correlations amongst it whatsoever. Data analysts everywhere would like to disagree!

Allow me to provide a simple real-life scenario in which a grocery store can utilize “big data” that has been collected from their customers with rewards cards. By swiping your card, all sorts of data can be collected by the store, including what items you purchased, how many of each item you purchased, what time you checked out, how many sale items you purchased, how many non-sale items you purchased, at which location you shopped, how much you spent, how much you saved, how many coupons you brought with you (both store-created coupons and brand manufacturer coupons), and the list goes on and on. Somewhere, at grocery headquarters, this data gets dumped into a giant pot with other data from other stores, and from product manufacturers, and from transportation companies, and from any number of other sources. In a back room somewhere, there is an IT person crunching numbers and mining this expansive collection of data. Let’s take a look at the type of information some of these data analysts can pull when your data is combined with all of the other shoppers.

-          Based on your purchase history, analysts can predict which coupons should be delivered to your doorstep, and which coupons you will likely just throw away. The best part is that these coupons or advertisements can be different for each and every shopper, based on their personal purchase history. This is not only beneficial to you, the customer, but it also benefits the grocer’s advertising ROI, and it helps to cut down on unnecessary environmental waste.

-          They can use this data to understand how much of a certain product they are going through in a set amount of time. They also know that it generally takes the transportation company 3 days for this product to be shipped across country. All of this information will allow the purchasing team to more accurately predict how much of an item they need to order and when they need to order it to ensure that the shelves stay stocked, and the ingredients stay fresh! This cuts down on waste, and keeps the customers happy.

-          Everyone knows that the grocery store can be a crowded scene around the holidays. But if you’re the manager, how do you know how many employees you need to schedule around these times? Well through some data analysis, the stores can predict how many shoppers to expect, which hours of the day will be the busiest, the average wait time between check-outs for each lane, how many lanes the store will need open to cut down on long lines and minimize the shopper’s wait time, and how many grocery bags to have stocked and ready to handle the rush!

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing “big data” to understand your business and improve your decision making.  But business owners are not the only ones to realize the importance and power of this data. Hackers and ill-intentioned techies know that businesses are the prime resources for expansive collections of data. From identity theft to the ability to sell the compromised data, there are numerous reasons that they want this data. The bottom line is that they want this data, and they will never stop trying to attain this data, because data is that important!

In my next article, we will look at some of the more common ways that a business’s data is compromised and ways to help safeguard your priceless collection of information.

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