If your company is not currently developing the capabilities, systems and skills to dive into the big data ocean, then you will quickly find yourself high and dry. It is becoming clearer by the day that the companies who saw its potential early, are the ones now swimming to success. Over dramatic? Perhaps some insight into its history and potential will show that big data is something no organisation, large or small, can underestimate (or worse still, ignore).
The rise of big data
In 2013, IBM announced that 90% of the available data in the world at that time had been gathered in the previous two years. Since then, technology, cloud software, algorithm development and data science have all grown hugely more sophisticated. The ability to collect, organise, store and utilise vast amounts of information from across the globe, has rocketed – the phenomenon known as big data.
First came rapid advances in mobile technology and then growing capabilities for wearable technology, spewing out huge data sets. The development of sensors that could be fitted to medical devices, televisions, cars, production lines and a growing range of other inanimate objects spurred the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors can even be fitted to farm animals these days. Much of the big data currently used to drive industry growth comes from the increasing capacity to connect processes and functions to the internet. It is believed that currently involves 0.6% of equipment. Predictions are that by 2020, there will be 50 billion different devices with internet connectivity.
IoT and big data are hugely significant – but can be seriously overwhelming for many companies. The capacity to extract usable data, and then utilise it in a meaningful way, needs to keep pace with what promises to be an even more substantial tsunami of information on the way. Big data is connecting businesses in an unprecedented fashion. Companies can work across continents with ease. Within organisations, business managers can gain insights and unify their focus in a far more orchestrated fashion. Customer understanding and engagement is also far more in depth. Consumers can be analysed, measured and even predicted using sub-level segmentation and ever-more personal insight. This previously undreamt of level of connectivity - globally and to even individual customers – makes business decision making increasingly streamlined, focused and seamless. But only for those who have the capabilities to take advantage.
The research possibilities arising from the Internet of Things and big data are one of the most exciting aspects - the “meat and drink” for business growth strategies. The perfect example of this is the colossal pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. There is talk of using big data to map, understand, predict and eventually eradicate all known diseases in the coming decades. Both Microsoft and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have pledged huge sums to support this. Many global businesses are basing growth strategies on the blossoming ability to forensically analyse and research consumer buying trends, production strengths and weakness, and financial patterns. Even social media provides research data. These new research possibilities are not just retrospective. Thanks to the rapid rise in intuitive software and data analysis techniques, it is increasingly possible to make business predictions based on big data.
Any business that relies on logistics and supply chain operations should be currently making serious investments in big data capabilities to achieve business growth. For example, IoT and big data mean that simply measuring goods in transit by amount and location is ancient history. Bar coding is being relegated to "old school”. Sensors on warehouse shelves, within lorries and even on individual pallets can monitor the exact location of all goods, the exact time they leave and arrive, but also their condition, such as temperature. Millions of pounds worth of fresh goods are destroyed each year because of supply problems. Big data and IoT means asset tracking can eradicate a substantial amount of this. For example, when transport faces hold ups, it can be re-routed instantly. Warehouse teams can predict when goods will arrive with far more accuracy and be ready and waiting. This of course, also means greater potential to automate many business processes and functions – such as using technology to find and retrieve goods from vast warehouses, a development embraced wholeheartedly by Amazon. Of course Amazon is not only using big data to inform and develop its fulfilment processes – it is also researching the way drones can be used to make deliveries. Its growth strategy and whole business model is based on using big data to understand and anticipate consumer needs.
Global manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce, Siemens and GE have also been quick to seize the importance of big data, including harnessing it to “predictive maintenance” technology. They can capture information right across their business operations, throughout the world, to make themselves far more efficient and to reduce waste. They too see big data as the bedrock of greater automation of manufacturing processes.
One of the greatest benefits of IoT and big data is that every company, of any size, can carve out their own improved connectivity and engagement improvements. By not doing so, smaller companies could be signing their own death warrant. Big data is driving growth, but only for those companies ready and willing to change. After conducting a survey of around 800 companies throughout the world, Microsoft and the Harvard Business Review reported that almost 50% of those surveyed knew that their way of doing business would be obsolete by 2020. In the survey, 57% of European respondents acknowledged that resistance to change was their biggest hurdle. There is some concern that this may be particularly relevant for the German Mittelstand, which relies heavily on tried and trusted manufacturing methodology and has been viewed as slower to embrace technology.
To some degree, SMEs (including the Mittelstand) are struggling to keep pace not because of reluctance to invest or change. But from lack of understanding and skills to guide those things. The changes big data is bringing to recruitment can be split into three main categories – shortage of relevant recruits, the need to up-skill managers, and ways to be more precise in hiring policies. Firstly, big data and the technology surrounding it is growing so fast that there is a worldwide shortage of recruit with the required level of data analysis and data security skills. If this is not something your company is currently addressing - tracking down or organically growing necessary skill-sets - big data is going to pass over your head. Secondly, an understanding and familiarity with big data is needed throughout management teams – especially marketing, production and finance. No decision makers can afford to be blissfully ignorant of the infinite business uses of big data. All must have some acumen to harness it to corporate strategies (and also grasp new data protection commitments). Finally, big data can inform and support hiring processes. It is now possible to match job roles to candidates digitally, leaving only the interpersonal skills to check in interviews. But using "faceless" workforce analytics and applicant tracking systems to drive recruitment can be problematic. Many companies – particularly technology ones – are shying away from a formulaic approach to recruitment, preferring to be less rigid in hiring aims and expectations.
CA Technologies of New York is the perfect example of a company that has thrown out the hypothetical recruitment rule book. It prides itself on paying little heed to previous job roles, instead basing its assessment of best talent on #youbringwhatyoubring. The company – which also has award winning policies for diversity and inclusion – seeks people with the ideas and passion for growth, not those who look good on paper (or in digital formulas).
Making connections with the best talent can, of course, be streamlined and simplified using online strategies and big data information. Creating online hiring networks brings people together globally and with greater efficiency. Endorsed Direct Hiring bridges the gap for businesses looking for talent, by using data driven intelligent matching you are able to connect with only the very best candidates in your industry. Endorsed places you in control of your hiring, allowing you to use your ‘gut instinct’ by facilitating direct access to candidates. Chat direct with candidates of interest, schedule interviews and make offers on a collaborative hiring platform.
Georgina has in-depth expertise within tech and innovation. You can find Georgina using her skills to help fellow creative industry leaders through inspiring research pieces or lecturing at Oxford College of Marketing.