Big Data is like fresh fish…

One of the new buzz words is now Big Data. According to IBM,  every day we create 2.5 quintillion (1018) bytes of data. Huge quantities of data elements are collected from a wide variety of different sources. Well-known sources are traditional transactional databases from ERP, SCM and CRM systems. Current enterprise systems create and store huge amounts of data, transactional data in the first place but also meta-data, audit data, security data, backup data and so on. Since the prices for storage and processing are ever decreasing, the volumes of databases increase. In order to be able to steer our businesses efficiently and effectively we are in a constant demand for supplementary data. However this data is only estimated at 20% of what could be available for the business. That is why we speak about Big Data.

More and more data is also coming from sources ‘outside’ the company like tweets, email messages, Facebook notifications, pictures, blogs, portfolios, websites, and videos. These data elements sneak into our businesses. Big Data is however not so well structured like data stored in relational databases. Twitter generates more than 7 TB of data every day and Facebook generates more than 10 TB.  These are data volumes equivalent to 7000 and 10000 movies of 100 min. respectively. Every day!  And these amounts are increasing every day. But what do we do with Big Data? Or better: what can or should we do with Big Data? Some quick answers. Can we do something with Big Data? Yes. What can we do with Big Data? It depends. Should we do something with Big Data? Likely yes.

First of all we have to keep in mind that Big Data comes in all sorts of formats (examples: xml, doc, txt, bmp, json, html, mpeg4, …) making an unified overview and the processing of it very challenging. Most social media platforms offer all kind of API’s to retrieve data out of their huge databases.  However most companies do not have the right tools to deal with such a broad variety of formats and cannot  deliver comprehensive information or knowledge out of it. Also the capacity to process Big Data is not always present in organizations.

Second, Big Data is like fresh fish. You have to catch it and cook it immediately because fresh fish tend to become very quickly tainted.  So does Big Data. What is the purpose of retrieving tweet streams of last week if you want to take countermeasures to a viral wave of bad tweets imposing your brand name?  The velocity by which Big Data is growing is fast but the opportunity to harvest data depends on the nature of the data and the kind of  information or knowledge  we want to obtain. This can be a problem. Do we know what we want? Do we see what kind of information can be delivered from Big Data? The answer is sadly no, not always. Dealing with Big Data means mains harvesting data in motion, throw away the mud and keep the raw diamonds. This takes time and effort and above all, how do we now that we have found a diamond?  Businesses do not always have the time to wait for a raw diamond raising from the mud. Still the potential is there. The recent presidential elections in the US were predicted by a professor based on a statistical and historical model. The model works entirely with big data that is available for everyone. However it was not known in advance if the model would have predictable power or not. So, we sure can do something with Big Data and we should give it at least a try to see if we can retrieve knowledge out of it. Big Data is not a gambling game, but it requires the right tools to sift away the mud and to keep the diamonds. These tools are slowly finding their way to the market.

jan devos

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ICT Trends – No more business as usual!

The ways in which we work, live, relax, and play are changing very fast and are greatly dictated by the pace of progress of recent information and communication technologies (ICT). These changes affects us all, in our daily roles as an employee, a business person, a resident, a citizen, a friend, a parent, a child, … and a lot more. As a matter of fact our different roles mingle and merge more and more giving us sometimes too much agitation to be good. Still, there is probably not a single human being on our globe which is not confronted with ICT trends that impacts his or her way of doing something.

There seems to be two major technological evolutions that drive these trends. First evolution is  faster and smaller electronics and the second one, which is more or less related to the former, is the ever growing broadband access to interconnected devices and computers, or simply the internet. I think that we should start using the term ICT (information and communication technology) over the more common term IT (information technology).

The search for smaller and faster electronics is still going on and new findings pave ways for an even more digitized life. Current induced trends are ‘the internet of things’, ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) and the more encompassing consumerization of IT. We do not invest anymore in IT, we consume IT. Broadband access to the internet give raise to all sorts of so called emergent collectives like social media (Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, …) and cloud computing. These two key evolutions have clearly mutual synergetic effects like the trend to mobility. Mobility can be described as anywhere, anytime and on any device. Today the number of mobile subscribers has already surpassed five billion. According to Ericson by 2020 there will be more than twenty billion connected devices. This is what is mend by ‘the internet of things’ or sometimes also called Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication. With a build-in, long-range RFID-chip almost every object, from large to very small can become a connected device and get the capacity to communicate bidirectional. This goes from a can of soup, a sweater,  a microwave oven, a refrigerator to your car. These are all connections next to the more traditional connections by PC’s or tablets.

Broadband access for everyone is an objective stated by Unesco and supported by the ITU. According to the ITU by 2015 entry-level broadband services should cost less than 5% of the average monthly income. A speed of 20Mbps seems to be a strict minimum.  In Europe 11 of 15 countries has already affordable broadband services with sometimes only 0,3% of the monthly income. According to The World Bank a 10% increase of broadband penetration yield a 1.21 and 1.36% increase in GDP growth on average for high-income and low/middle-income countries respectively.

But there is more, much more. These trends do not only change, they break and transform current organizational structures based on static technical structures. The change is driven through actions of people occupying different roles in organizations.  New organizational forms emerge based on co-creation, collaboration and enabling social structures. These novel organizations  are in many ways no more comparable to existing ones based on a firm technical structure with IS/IT systems supporting the business processes. We are drifting towards self-organizations  where the collaborators bring their own systems (BYOD) and create their own complex relationships and business activities. Existing businesses which do not embrace these new trends are putting themselves at risk and can become obsolete and go out of business. It is however not a matter of simply allowing these technologies into the organization. Doing so is naive and not feasible, because the current paradigms on controlling and managing an organization are not applicable anymore. Indeed, how will organizations deal with IS security in an BYOD concept? How will an organization manage their data and their legitimate obligations when all systems are in the ‘cloud’? We are in an urgent need for innovative ways in which we can streamline our new organizational forms.

It is clear that we are moving into open systems. People working and living within these systems respond to unanticipated inputs, often seen as perceived opportunities. Serendipity is much more valuable now than strategic planning. However not a lot of the current cultivated managers are willing to leave their way of thinking from a linear top-down oriented one towards a more bottom-up, cyclic one where outcomes look unlike anything else.

Also the time invest by people change. The boundaries between private and public life are becoming blurry. The private life of a person doesn’t stop at the boundary of the office.  The current dominant generations, Gen Xers and Gen Yers were the first to grow up with computers in their homes. For them the boundary between playing and working is less strict and computers are mostly used as hedonic information systems. This contrasts with current organizations that use computers to build productivity-oriented information systems. According to research perceived usefulness of information systems loses its dominant predictive value in favor of ease of use and enjoyment.

The major concern for managers should be the sustainability of these new organizations. New emergent social structures should somehow lead to effectiveness and efficiency and get the work done, still the major objectives of any economic entity that wants to deliver value. This is however not an easy task. It might also become clear that the these ICT trends reduce the ability of the management to exert control. Is management willing to let this happen?

There is certainly a lack of knowledge and timely IS research on the impact of ICT on organizations and the power ICT have to transform organizations. One thing that can be remembered is that with the current ICT trends there will be no more business as usual.

jan devos

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