Sensors Invade: Big Data Goes Mainstream
The power of sensors and big data to transform business is now too strong to ignore.
Sensors have already invaded our lives, leading in good part to an exponential growth in digital data storage over the last five years. This trend will certainly continue in 2014 due to the increasing amount of information coming from IP-based sensors that capture environment data. You might not realize it, but you are sending data through sensors, such as through your smartphone, at all hours of the day. Think of the thousands of photos you snap, the number of workouts logged with your new fitness app/armband or the readings from your thermostat you have connected to your smartphone – not to mention every phone call you make or GPS reading you access.
In 2014, expect sensors to bring big data into the mainstream as businesses look to capitalize on the trend. Companies will try to use big data to gain more insight about their customers to improve service, better market their products, etc. As sensor usage and options grow, expect big data to drive decisions. What will fuel the trend? 1) More data and 2) better tools.
As mentioned, the amount of data each of us generate is already staggering and there’s a vast amount of gadgets hitting the market that are only going to increase this information. For instance, I can now purchase a fork that tracks the speed at which I eat and control my door locks and ambient temperature in my garage all from my tablet. I can even tell when I’ve left the garage door open or not. More than just point pieces of information, this data allows me to look for trends across time. For example, perhaps I eat fast on days where I work late, and in my rush I leave the garage door open.
New data generated will surely give us some surprising insights. Along the way, we will learn we cannot just collect the data and chart it in traditional ways. Big data will cause us to change our technology approaches and navigate new definitions of data stewardship to master its use.
Big data transactional databases such as Cassandra and reporting databases like Hadoop will continue to grow in popularity as mechanisms to store data. As they mature and become more accessible, expect adoption to continue to take off. Innovation is happening at a rapid pace on how to mine, visualize and secure the data coming from all forms of sensors.
One favorite 2013 example was a mega retailer’s use of sensor data collection. The company gathered 58 million records per hour across more than 8,000 stores. The analysis of this data enabled them to save millions of dollars in power. Bank of America also started monitoring employee movements to see if they were taking too many breaks. The information gathered led the bank to build a new cafeteria that increased productivity.
Both of these examples highlight the challenges beyond technology. As companies look to adopt this information, they will need to navigate a couple of key obstacles:
Finding the signal – With the large amount of data collected and the relative immaturity of the big data space, tools are still being developed to find the relevant information in all of the potentially useless information. In 2014, we’ll continue to see a fragmented proliferation of inexpensive tools that will allow us to place complex algorithms to make decisions. These tools may start as specialty solutions at first, but will continue to evolve as they grow.
Privacy tightrope – When first confronted with the concept of big data and sensor data, one of the immediate thoughts is that this information can be incredibly personal. Will privacy cease to exist? This is a larger discussion that we have not come to grips with, as most of our waking lives and movements increasingly are stored and connected. It should be a conversation to be had, however, especially as we enter into the insurance and healthcare arenas. Even though there are true value propositions for consumers that are willing to sacrifice data for deeper discounts, the industry has only a light grasp of the long-term implications.
Bias – The gut feelings that drive so many decisions will not go away easily. For years data has been manipulated, or data integrity questioned, to support bias decisions. Sensors really begin to challenge this concept – the vast amount of very detailed data removes the human element. But bias is strong, and it will take strong leadership at an organization to break into a data-driven decision. I’ve been confronted with bias first-hand. Although I have technology that allows me to see whether my garage door is open or closed, one day I realized it was in fact me who left the garage door open when I thought for sure I had closed it.
Despite these challenges, the power of sensors and big data to transform our business is too strong to ignore. As the year progresses, we will see more products and services seeping into our lives and exciting new security techniques emerge to manage these devices. In 2014, expect strong leaders to navigate these challenges effectively and start to move up the maturity curve of adoption.
Paul Holway is the Technology Leader in Centric’s St. Louis office. He is an engineer, technology consultant, lover of quantum physics, avid history reader, amateur investor and father with a passion for business enablement through the use of technology. Views expressed are entirely his own. Contact Paul to learn more.