We tend to think of Big Data as a pleasant innovation. It’s not. It’s far more than that – it’s the binary defining survival versus extinction.
We’re talking about the future at several levels. First, Big Data is the only thing that’ll help the human race sustain itself. The numbers are stunningly evident. By 2050, Planet Earth will have over 10 billion inhabitants. The only way to sustain that many lives is to create smart cities. And these smart cities aren’t just a nice futuristic innovation. They’re an absolute necessity If we don’t learn to be more efficient in resource utilization, if we can’t control traffic, can’t provide emergency services predictively, and can’t predict and overcome health scares, the end result is loss of life. We might even be looking at extinction events because our ecosystem is so reliant on the delicate balance of resources and assistance at the right time and place.
In fact, Big Data has now become the difference between a safe continuation of human life and complete extinction. Consider food – the most basic of human needs. Managing the supply chain, predicting climate events, and ensuring the most efficient logistics, are just some of the advances we are working on as we figure out how to feed a large populace packed into dense spaces.
There are already inklings today of how Big Data is going to assist in these seismic changes. For instance, even today, EMC has solutions that track data coming from every single route that drivers take to actually predict where the driver is going as they enter the car. GPS information can be leveraged into knowing exactly where people are going. At the individual level, this means convenience. But at the global level, it means exponential rises in efficiency as drivers and other modes of transport are predictively redirected to optimal routes. Right now, we benefit from the luxury of our GPS knowing we want to get to the office because its 8 am on a Tuesday. Tomorrow, the ability to gather and harvest this data will secure efficient food supplies.
This stark comparison between life and death isn’t just evident at the macro human civilisation level. It applies to individual businesses too. Let me give an example. My father was an ardent fan of Kodak when we were growing up. Everything – the film, the camera, the accessories – simply had to be Kodak for any pictures to be taken.
Kodak doesn’t exist today, because it didn’t predict change. The analogue to digital shift in photography killed the company. The irony is that Kodak’s engineers invented and developed the digital camera before anyone else. They took it to senior management, who just couldn’t see the writing on the wall. That’s because they didn’t have access to smart Big Data. And we’ve lost a lot of Fortune 500 companies because they weren’t equipped to keep up with Big Data. So for businesses, we see a choice coming rapidly over the horizon – take action or die out. They need to move from merely collecting the data, to analysing it and using those analytics to adjust their business. To be useful, Big Data must complete its journey from information to insight to action. If there’s no action taken, you might as well not have the data.
I can’t advocate strongly enough how Big Data actually gives us the power to change where we go. Businesses have traditionally felt themselves victims of the future. They could predict it but were powerless to change it. Big Data, combined with EMC intelligence, changes the game. It’s no longer just about predicting the future passively, but also having the knowledge to change it in beneficial ways.
So, again, Big Data is the choice between success and failure, life and extinction. But it’s also not a solitary endeavour. I firmly believe analytics and action is a team sport. This team could exist within a company, or even a department. In terms of the bigger picture, we’re going to have to see greater collusion between citizens, governments and the private sector. The citizen defines the need and the application, the city provides the infrastructure, and the private sector provides the connectivity and innovation. By working together, and working with Big Data, we can have a future that’s incredibly bright. Fail, and we’re looking at a different outcome altogether.