Global Project Explores What The Human Face Of Big Data Looks Like

September 2012 saw the launch of the first ever real-time visualisation of big data in action from around the world in a project called the Human Face of Big Data. The globally crowd sourced venture addressed the impact data has on everyday lives, capturing and analysing answers from respondents about all aspects of life such as family, sleep and trust through a smartphone app.

As the Guardian explains, the project was the brainchild of EMC and award-winning American photographer Rick Smolan, the co-creator of the ground-breaking “Day in the Life” series. The smartphone app gathered data on personal and cultural beliefs from millions of people and on the day of the London launch was downloaded more than 100,000 times across ten countries including the UK, US, Malaysia and India.

The synchronised launch events held in Singapore, London and New York, featured leading Big Data experts which interpreted seven days’ worth of information streaming in from participants using the mobile app all over the world.  At the London event, held just off the Southbank, leading data innovators shared examples of their work in an interactive Big Data Lab, including DataKind, an organisation set up to help third sector bodies use data for the good of humanity. The event was a fantastic showcase for the opportunities available through better data analyse and featured pods looking at specific social insights, such as around crime prevention and healthcare.

The latest stage in the Human Face of Big Data project took place when on the 4th of December, 10,000 copies of a book containing 200 images and compelling essays, arrived on the desks of the world’s most influential people. The book was created by over 100 of the world’s most talented writers, designers and photojournalists, illustrating ways in which big data is already helping to shape and address many of the biggest challenges facing our planet.

The project is still ongoing and, if you’d like to add your data to the project, the free Human Face of Big Data Viewer app is available for download on iOS and Android.  In less than two months, more than 3 million share and compare questions have been answered, in more than 100 countries, through the smartphone app.


Roundtable Discussion with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP

On 6 November EMC held a roundtable discussion involving more than a dozen key policymakers and media commentators to discuss the progress achieved by the government to date in opening up its data sets and applying big data analytics to them to drive efficiency and power growth.

The debate was a timely response to two recent reports on these subjects:

The key theme emerging from the debate was that better collaboration, leadership, skills and experimentation will be needed to realise the opportunities promised by greater transparency and use of big data.

The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, highlighted the need for deeper collaboration: “The use of data should support better decision making – of this I have no doubt. A problem still remains as there is not enough collaboration between departments. The government remains siloed and doesn’t share intelligence across departments, leading to very poor decision making. This is deeply frustrating.”

James Petter, EMC’s Vice President and Country Manager for the UK and Ireland highlighted the need for stronger leadership: “There is a clear challenge ahead for the public sector to get to grips with big data and if they are slow to the table, there is a risk of being left behind. One of the hindrances that is preventing big data becoming a top priority is the need for clear leadership and direction from someone who is prepared to adopt a culture for change – one that can identifying the opportunity and drive it from the centre.”

Meanwhile, Chris Yiu, the Head of Policy Exchange’s Digital Government unit and author of The Big Data Opportunity report, argued that the lack of appropriate skills was holding back this powerful agenda: “what you don’t find in training is a track for data scientists, in particular with a focus on how to tell a compelling story and visualise it. The government needs to get behind an advanced analytics team that can bring in the right skills, likely to come from the private sector, and give them the remit to explore the opportunity, educate senior government leadership, and get this conversation on to board level agenda.”

Finally, Bill McCluggage, EMC’s Chief Technologist, Public Sector for the UK and Ireland, described how a willingness to experiment was key to unlocking the power of big data. “Big data is not going to solve the world’ s issues for governing and government. Big data and the activity that surrounds it is about taking a new view on how you look at data and identifying new opportunities from a scientific perspective. The recommendations from our report with the Policy Exchange were spot on in stating that the government needs to start small, exemplify what it has started, and from there generate the need and applications to support experimentation. Similar to how businesses operate; the government needs to invest a little to see the true benefits of big data.”

Big Data Shifting to the Emerging World

For those of you who have been following the annual EMC/IDC Digital Universe study over the last six years, this year the media focused on some new interesting angles following its launch on December 11th.

Chris Roche, the regional director at Greenplum, the data analytics division of EMC, appeared on CNBC Europe’s news programme The Worldwide Exchange where he discussed the massive shift in where data will be produced.  Chris explained that the study “Big Data, Bigger Digital Shadows, and Biggest Growth in the Far East”, which measures all of the digital data created, replicated and consumed each year worldwide, found that a geographic role-reversal is just around the corner. The study predicts that although the digital universe has in the past been a developed-world phenomenon, we are currently on the verge of a shift as the population of the emerging markets begins to cast a longer shadow. Chris explained that 62% of data will be attributed to the emerging markets by 2020.

The Digital Universe study showed that, whilst emerging markets accounted for 23% of the digital universe as recently as 2010, their share is already up to 36% in 2012. The current global breakdown of the digital universe is:

  • U.S. – 32%
  • Western Europe – 19%
  •  China – 13%
  • India – 4%
  • Rest of the world – 32%

Yet by 2020, China alone is expected to generate 22% of the world’s data.

Elsewhere in the media, the Financial Times focused on what is known as the ‘Big Data Gap’ – the huge untapped opportunity offered to organisations through big data. As only a small fraction of data generated daily by people and machines is being analysed little is known about it. The study estimates that just 0.5% of the world’s data is being analysed. This presents a business opportunity like no other, with the potential to create lucrative new revenue streams and real, incremental growth.


Cancer Research UK recruits EMC to improve its storage utilisation


In September this year, Cancer Research UK announced that it has improved its storage utilisation by 30 per cent using EMC’s VNX unified storage offering. The world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research has transformed its IT infrastructure and deployed its private cloud.

This move, by one of the most well-known charities ion the UK, is a great example of charities using cutting edge technology to enable faster and more reliable access to databases and mission-critical applications. The benefits for Cancer Research UK include increased performance, improved efficiency and significant return on investment. Crucially, the improvements will also ensure that money is not being wasted on IT which could otherwise be spent on research and the time savings for staff have also been significant.

Cancer Research UK’s legacy storage environment was no longer providing adequate capacity and system performance, putting unnecessary pressure on the charity’s IT staff and resources. The outcome of this was employees would experience delays in their requests, ranging from simply accessing emails to complex database queries. These delays prevented the organisation from maximising its resources and helping staff to raise funds for world-class research in all aspects of cancer.

After discussing with partner CAE the technologies that would better support the charity’s IT operations, CRUK chose EMC for both its storage and backup and recovery needs.

Michael Briggs, Head of Infrastructure of Cancer Research UK said “As an IT department, our job is to provide our internal ‘customers’ with the reliable and efficient systems they need to work towards delivering Cancer Research UK’s vision… Our previous IT infrastructure didn’t have the necessary storage processing power or flexibility to handle our growing data demands and the resulting delays that our users were experiencing were something we just couldn’t afford. With CAE’s help, we decided to transform our IT infrastructure using EMC technologies and began seeing the benefits straight away; both in terms of an immediate performance improvement and a reduction in backup time and cost”

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Harnessing the Growth Potential of Big Data: Why the CEO Must Take the Lead

While Big Data is the latest buzzword in the tech industry, the signals are that it has the potential to be a game-changing competitive weapon. The timing of this sea-change is good because organisations of all sizes in the UK today need to find new sources of growth.

EMC’s James Petter recently worked with Professor Joe Peppard from the Cranfield School of Management to develop a report entitled “Harnessing the Growth Potential of Big Data: Why the CEO must take the lead.” In it, they outline five different strategies for CEOs to embrace to drive growth:

  • Do what we always do, but better. Focused on core operational processes, insights derived from big data might identify and resolve supply chain bottlenecks; refine advertising strategy; challenge fixed assumptions about profitable customers; or something similarly fundamental to the way your business runs today.
  • Do something different by harnessing existing or new data. Better insights from big data could completely change a business model – from selling a product to delivering a service..
  • Do something new. Data already owned or accessible to a business might open up new business opportunities almost by ‘accident’, for example allowing businesses that have a billing relationship with the customer to move into the payments industry.
  • Co-create value with customers. ‘Open innovation’ can use crowdsourced data to drive product and service development.
  • Monetise data. The data you own or create as part of your day-to-day operations could be valuable if delivered in different ways to different organisations; whether that’s a stock exchange selling trading data or a search-engine selling search trends data to retailers or even central banks.

In reality, several of these could come into play simultaneously; look at the example of Telefonica/O2 which this year announced it would be pinning its prospects for growth on better use of data, including monetising data (reselling location data to retailers), and has also looked to ‘do something new’ with its O2 Money proposition.

At EMC, we believe every CEO needs to challenge their management team, examine their information strategy and establish a cross-functional team to support a ‘data lab’ to review the potential of big data to drive growth. Doing this is a challenge to leadership, culture and creativity, as it is in asking different, second order questions and imagining new ways of operating the business so that business models develop and growth opportunities are uncovered.

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