By Steve Mills
Senior Vice President and Group Executive
Frustration with “information overload” is one of the facts of life these days. For many people, the deluge of information they’re confronted with every day at work, on TV, on the Internet, and, increasingly, on mobile phones and tablet PCs too often seems like a burden that has to be overcome rather than a benefit.
It doesn’t have to be so. At IBM, we believe the super-abundance of information, often called “Big Data,” should be thought of as nothing less than a tremendous new natural resource. In fact, information is becoming the petroleum of the 21st century. But we need a new generation of analytics technology and expertise to help us make the most of it.
Today, at events in New York and London called the Smarter Analytics Leadership Summit, we’re talking with 100 business leaders about the potential for harvesting this great resource to create value for their businesses and for society.
Editor’s note: In addition, we want to open the conversation to many more people via the A Smarter Planet blog and Twitter, at #SmarterAnalytics and #Big Data. For the video simulcast, click here.
What exactly is Big Data? It’s a product of the Internet combined with all the new ways that are emerging to gather, discover and make sense of data. For years, business people collected information in relational databases—made up of tabular columns and rows. Then came the Internet and search engines that help us find just the nuggets of information we want on millions of Web pages. Now, add to that all the data that can be collected from the Internet of Things—tens of millions of sensors that gather everything from the vital signs of babies in ICUs to the currents at the bottom of the ocean to location data gathered from millions of smartphones.
Add it all up and we humans are creating fifteen petabytes of new information every day—about eight times the information housed in all the academic libraries in the United States.
The promise of Big Data is truly mind-boggling. If we can harvest insights from all of those sources of information, rather than being overwhelmed by data, we have the capacity to understand with greater precision than ever before how our world actually works. By applying analysis to data, we can see once-hidden patterns unfolding before our eyes so we can make better decisions about everything from personal financial planning to a company’s strategic direction. We can accurately predict what will happen if we make one decision rather than another. And we can meld together streams of information coming from many different sources, and, often in real time, decide how best to respond to sudden changes.
The way the city of Rio de Janeiro is dealing with its wild weather shows the value of Big Data. The city is beset by frequent violent storms, which cause destructive floods and landslides on its many heavily-populated hillsides. IBM is helping the city predict the weather with 80% accuracy down to the block level, and up to 48 hours in advance. Armed with advance warning, city managers can prepare for the worst. The technology that makes this possible is Deep Thunder, an application developed by IBM Research that uses high-performance computing, math algorithms and a combination of topographical data, information gathered from 33 rain gauges scattered across the city and global weather data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.
Drawing insights from Big Data is technically challenging. It can’t be done with a desktop software application. To deal with those challenges, IBM is developing new capabilities for information management and analysis. We have spent more than $14 billion since 2005 acquiring analytics companies, including market leaders Cognos, SPSS and Coremetrics. We also created a business analytics practice within our IBM Global Business Services—which now has thousands of consultants. We’ve learned from more than 20,000 analytics engagements with clients.
One of the important lessons we’ve learned is that, in Big Data analytics, one size doesn’t fit all. So we’re developing what we call Signature Solutions to help businesses take on some of their most critical needs. These solutions are tailor made to handle a particular problem or business opportunity. Our first targets are fraud detection, consumer intelligence and corporate financial operations analysis. Each solution is a combination of software capabilities and consulting expertise.
The era of Big Data has arrived. The implications are huge. So are the technical and organizational challenges. But, in partnership with our clients, we hope to deliver on the immense potential of Big Data for making businesses, the global economy and society work better.
For more information:
Big Data, Analytics, and the Path from Insights to Value, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
Outperforming in a Data-Rich, Hyper-Connected World, published by the IBM Center for Applied Insights.