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Big Data Overview Part One: What it is and why it matters

At first, I thought that ‘Big Data’ was just a buzz word. I never really looked into it and just dismissed it as another way to describe data collection. In a small way that is correct, but the reality is that Big Data is so much more than that. Big Data is leveraged in every industry from the public sector to private science firms and even though it is still fairly new to startups and smaller businesses, tech giants including Google, Facebook, and IBM have been experimenting with the capabilities for over a decade. Now that Big Data has been proven to be a huge asset and the technologies are more accessible to smaller companies, there has never been a better time for smaller companies to look into data aggregation and analytics.

So what exactly is Big Data? At its core, Big Data has to do with collecting large amounts of data – just as the name would suggest. But beyond that, Big Data refers to how you use that additional data. Let’s look to UPS for a good example. The following is gathered from a 2013 research white paper entitled ‘Big Data in Big Companies’ made available by the International Institute for Analytics. I will be paraphrasing for the most part but the statistical information is directly quoted.

Corporate use of Big Data

Since its inception, UPS has been collecting the standard data involving tracking, location information, package sizes and weights, and other data related to package logistics. This is all standard and understandable information that allows UPS to operate efficiently. Recently, however, UPS has installed sensors in over 46,000 vehicles that log speed, direction, braking, drivetrain performance, and a host of additional vehicle information. This information at a glance would seem to be related to maintenance and upkeep for their fleet of vehicles, but the actual reasoning behind it was even deeper. Using this daily performance data coupled with data archived from the latest road maps and traffic patterns, UPS was able to completely redesign their drivers’ route structures. In 2011, this led to an 8.4 million gallon fuel savings and managed to cut 85 million miles off of daily routes - a substantial saving by any metric. According to UPS, a single mile saved each day by each driver results in a $30 million savings by year end. Considering the fuel and mileage savings reported, it is clear to see that Big Data analytics significantly lowered UPS’ operating costs.

Other uses of Big Data

Now, back to my thoughts on the matter. Big Data essentially boils down to the collection of additional data, leveraging the data you already have, and through aggregation and analytics, a result with a much larger picture of how a business operates. Beyond UPS, there is Google, arguably one of the largest developers of experimental content. Every year, Google releases a number of obscure products. Many of these never actually succeed, but Google takes the data gathered from these “failures” to figure out what worked and what didn’t. The company uses the information, adding “what worked” to existing applications or they spin up another prototype using bits and pieces from previous projects. Collecting every piece of obscure information such as average words entered in a text field, the number of times a specific button was clicked, or even the amount of times a user had to undo an action, is what enables Google to analyze and determine what works and what doesn’t. For the vast majority of tech companies, this is the main appeal of Big Data. Of course, Google can afford to take such risks and eat these types of costs where smaller companies have a harder time swallowing that particular pill. Another positive aspect of Big Data is that you are able to add functionality into existing applications. It won’t be as powerful and scalable as a new approach built with that implementation in mind, but it can help you get on track to finding out things you never even realized you want to know.

If you are involved in the software development industry, it is important to be aware that Big Data exists, and it’s here to stay. It isn’t necessary on a fundamental level, but when leveraged it can help provide a much broader picture of your industry and your company as well. At Palm Beach Software Design, we love keeping up with industry trends and standards. Reach out to us for your development needs and we will help tailor a solution that works for you, your business, and your customers.

About Palm Beach Software Design

Palm Beach Software Design is comprised of a small, tight team of software and business professionals dedicated to growing businesses up to $75M by helping them to improve their potential by making operations more efficient, increasing sales and public impact, and modernizing for today’s business climate using technology and software as a basis. We are process-driven, with high standards of excellence, and a dedicated staff. We have been in business for 30 years, and although we are a Florida-based company, we serve clients throughout North America. Please contact us at 561-572-0233 and visit us on the web at to learn more about how Palm Beach Software Design, Inc. can help your business get that competitive business advantage.

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