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Big data: We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg

Analysts agree that big data plays an increasingly important role in every aspect of our lives, wherever we look

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 10:00am

Calling for a ride using Uber, leasing your apartment or booking one using AirBnb, streaming songs through Spotify or ordering a meal using Foodpanda or Deliveroo are services we have come to rely on.

Demand for customised and seamless online services is met through the accurate and effective use of big data.

“Big data plays a role, right from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. It makes your life easier by helping you make better decisions,” says Swararajul Desai, data science lead in machine learning at Grab, a leading ride-hailing platform in Southeast Asia.

Big data is an umbrella term that encompasses all data, from financial transactions to DNA. It is a collection of structured and unstructured information. Big data is useless on its own, but when effectively mined it can lead to powerful outcomes.

London-based market research company Novonous predicts the global big data market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 36.7 per cent until 2020 because of the increasing penetration of big data in various sectors, the increased use of analytics services and the availability of affordable big data solutions and services for end users. The growth prospects are huge. According to some estimates only 0.5 per cent of big data available is ever analysed.

“Big data… enables for better customisation and allows better predictions. I actually call big data a framework of everything we do,” says Egidio Zarrella, head of banking and capital markets for KPMG Asia-Pacific. Zarrella’s practice is focused on technology. “Take Spotify, when you create a playlist or make something they collect the playlist and pump it back to consumers by recommending new songs.”

“Your health, your purchasing patterns when you go to e-commerce platforms, everything you do is related to big data,” Zarrella says. “What’s really exciting for all of us is that you can predict future trends that could help people. The more you dig into big data, the bigger it is.”

Big data is everywhere.“It’s being used in our everyday lives to a tremendous degree but, most of it, you can’t see it. As a consumer you are at one end of data-driven business, and big data is at the other,” says Mart Van de Ven, founder of Droste, a data science consultancy firm that offers services to build data pipelines and analyse data.

Major companies rely on teams of data scientists and analytics specialists to gain insights into consumers and improve operations, ensuring the insights from big data are valuable.

Take Asia Miles, the airline rewards programme company based in Hong Kong.

“Our goal is to match the best offers from over 700 programme partners to more than 9 million members worldwide,” says Bertrand Chen, products and data services lead at Asia Miles. “To do that, we need to combine and clean the treasure trove of disparate data from different sources. Then we use machine learning algorithms to predict the future behaviour of our members and their propensity for different activities.”

“Those insights allow us to send the right offer, to the right member, at the right time, through the right channel. Another focus is to make the programme as rewarding as possible for every single member, from the frequent flyer executive to the credit card guru.”

The role of big data is evolving in parallel with more sophisticated machine learning, also known as artificial intelligence (AI) that helps analyse complex and large data quickly.

“We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to big data, but when we start using AI, cognitive robotics, we have a whole different world and we’ve only just started talking about it,” Zarrella says.