Torture the data, and it will confess to anything, said Ronald H Coase, Nobel Laureate in Economics. That’s what big data does. Seen as a potential goldmine for software makers, it drives businesses to take the right decisions and cut costs.
Retail stores from Amazon to Wal-mart use big data to customize services and understand user preferences. Ditto for big manufacturers such as Boeing who use it to fix defects in production and improve maintenance.
How exactly does this work, say in jet engines? A deluge of real time data is available from sensors and digital devices embedded in these engines. Making such data understandable to computers helps the company identify maintenance problems and improve fuel efficiency. So, there are huge savings.
The spin offs of adopting big data are evident in a survey commissioned by TCS two years ago. The findings: companies using big data projected a higher return on investment. Companies that did more business on the internet spent more on big data than those who did not. Also, those using unstructured or loosely called wild data fared better than their counterparts. What is certain is that big data has crossed the early technology pangs and has enthused many internet-driven businesses across the world.
Who wins and who loses in this ‘big data’ game is a matter of early adopters versus laggards. Clearly, it is a multi-disciplinary field, with data science and data supported decision-making at the core. This means one needs software and tools to handle all the data, besides the infrastructure, smart decision-makers who know what questions to ask in the first place and a new breed of data scientists and analytics people. No wonder a data scientist, as the Harvard Business Review put it, has the sexiest job in the 21st century.
This also means embracing a new culture to share and accept data supported analysis and insights to take crucial business decisions.
Opportunities for Big Data to make a big impact are many. Already marketing and sales,consumer behavior, brand-building are leveraging on this –as we see how social networks are being fully used. The scope is much wider – from manufacturing and supply chain, to pharma and insurance, IT and telecom, travel and tourism, R&D, healthcare, finance, media, design and maintenance.
With all factors in it’s favour – from the key players in IT services to the thriving start-ups and the right kind of skills in abundance, India has the opportunity to become a leader in this fast emerging field as the back office of the world, just as did in IT services and ITeS over the last two decades.
This time, it should succeed better in adopting big data within the country as well – in business, government and social sectors. After all, India has a long tradition of statistics and mathematics, foundations of data science. In every major initiative of the government – from Digital India to Make in India, Smart Cities, Skills India and Swachh Bharat, and in all socio-economic sectors, it needs to tap into this emerging discipline to ensure impactful, and visible results and smart, data supported decisions.
It also means the need to adopt of a cultural change in India. IT czar N.R. Narayana Murthy is well known for insisting that every decision should be based on data. The process has gotten easier, despite the deluge, thanks to technology and a better understanding of how to tap into it. More case-studies need to built-up in India by academia, businesses and government to document benefits and success stories and trigger the culture of adoption.
As a piece in HBR says “Our statistical analysis tells us that what we’re seeing is not just a few flashy examples but a more fundamental transformation of the economy. We’ve become convinced that almost no sphere of business activity will remain untouched by this movement.”
That’s a caution for India that aspires to be growing, globally competitive economy.