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Big data demystified

Divina Paredes | Oct. 23, 2012
Paul Kent, VP of big data at SAS, ranks big data as a"ground changing technology" that happens every seven or 10 years."

Paul Kent, VP of big data at SAS, ranks big data as a"ground changing technology" that happens every seven or 10 years."

"If you don't adapt to it, you will be irrelevant in acouple of years," Kent said at a media briefing on big data and businessanalytics at SAS's headquarters in North Carolina.

Kent offers what he says is a "solid definition" of big data

"Big data is relative, not absolute," he says. The termapplies when the amount of data you are working on "puts you out of yourcomfort zone".

"Analytics can really be done anywhere in a company," hesays. "Big data is the democratisation of data. It is empowering anybody tothink 'I can find a pattern in some data and make useful business value out ofit'."

In this interview with CIO New Zealand, Paul Kent talks about his roleand how big data is impacting organisations:

He cites the case of a grocery store where an HR staffmember analysed the employee roll and discovered a large percentage of themwould come back to work at a certain time every year. This data influenced theonboarding process for these seasonal workers who are welcomed as existingemployees and do not "have to go through and learn all the rules andregulations over and over again".

He says while improvement through the use of data does notnecessarily turn into more profit for the company, "usually this is a sideeffect of doing a better job on anything". In this case, the company saved ontraining cost and lifted employee morale.

Kent says another simple application of big data wasdemonstrated by a rental business which uses elevator logs to observe which oftheir customers might be less able to pay. This is done by aggregating the dataof the number of people stopping on each floor. He says this "unstructureddata" of elevator logs was previously unused and kept in a data warehouse. Thecompany found that when there were fewer people going to an office, thatcompany may need a smaller space, or will be unable to pay the bill.

The lessons from all this is to "think differently" and forcompanies to modernise their computer resources, says Kent.

"Think of ways to use existing data in more complex ways,"he says. "Have you kept the door open to capture new data sets and makesomething out of it?"

Big data analytics can also use existing data in morecomplex and exciting ways. A mobile phone provider in Europe, for instance,looks at the network of people a customer interacts with to aid in itsassessment of customer churn. The model takes into account calling patterns andwhether the customer's network of friends are changing mobile phone carriers."You target more marketing dollars at them or listen to them with highervolumes," he says.


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