Big data has enabled many firsts. It was used to develop the atomic bomb that ended WWII. It was used to put a man on the moon. And now it is used every day in every way through the devices we carry around in our pockets—our mobile phones. In the past, those who processed big data used supercomputers, doing then what Google and others can now bring together in four seconds.
What is big data? In short, big data is volume. It’s a collection and synthesis of internal and external datasets. The best big data solutions are the ones that marry internal first-party data and external third-party data together at scale and in real time—that’s true innovation.
Today, we’re not looking at whether processing big data is possible, but instead whether processing data can be done quickly and cost-effectively enough on mobile devices. Search capabilities, cloud computing, and the processing speed of mobile has enabled access to big data in one place in real time with more feasible costs and timelines. You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company—a startup can access this capability and pay as it goes.
But what does that mean for your business? Recent research shows that many executives are still searching to find the business value from big data. It can certainly be overwhelming with all that is available now, but don’t let it intimidate you. Look at your situation and assess what you have available that makes sense for your audience and your needs.
Here are five things to think about as you get started:
If you want the most accurate utility in your category, you must tap into your audience. Of course, this is nothing new, but you can use your dynamic data to help understand patterns at the individual level—trends, market, competition, behavior, interaction between people. Amazon does a great job of this with its "customers who bought this item also bought …" recommendations.
You can’t surface those Amazon recommendations if you don’t store the data. This is much more complex than it seems, and until recently the cost has been prohibitive. But not anymore. Moore’s Law is on our side here. You never know when something will suddenly become timely, or when new data will be available that, when combined with existing data, will create a new story. Even if you don’t think you need it today, track it for tomorrow.
The dataset you want is a global one, but the most valuable individual queries are typically the hyperlocal ones. Design and build your platform solution for the broadest possible footprint, and then slice and dice it as necessary to create value. For example, the Weather Company uses its global weather data to create localized, sales-driven analytics on segments such as retail. Data says a high-temperature forecast of 60-degree weather prompts sales of shorts in Chicago, but the same encourages sales of jackets in Phoenix. This helps shape more effective messaging on our properties for both the consumer and the advertiser.
If you can track a user’s location by law in your region or country, do—simple as that. Location is the human genome project of the next three decades. It’s a great way to learn about consumer behavior in order to provide contextual solutions, such as local weather or sports scores.
As we begin to see more and more applications of big data, particularly in a mobile context, transparency is everything. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" is a great rule to protect your users and your shareholders. Government intervention is at the doorstep, and it will only take a few scary use cases to play out. Companies must police themselves, or what holds enormous power and convenience could be delayed decades. Be careful and ask a lawyer to review before you release anything to your customers.
So we have defined big data and shared some things to keep in mind when getting started, but how does it apply to mobile and mobile applications in particular?
Big data for mobile has evolved from something that was used to place cell towers more accurately into something that can now crowdsource the traffic to give you an alternative route solution (See the Waze traffic app). Why does this matter? These improvements allow the utilities you use to be materially more accurate today. This creates not only convenience but also entirely new economic models based on the data you’re generating. (Who owns that data is a story for another day and another author.)
For mobile applications, it is important to leverage big data as part of an overall CRM strategy and think how mobile analytics can be connected with customer data warehouses. Marketers also need to leverage opportunities to link data to third-party consumer data to receive a more holistic view of targeted customers.
The Golden Rule for mobile is the user experience. This does not change, whether you’re working on an application for mobile or applying big data to your business. Sure big data is accessible today, but it’s not simple in most formats. Your job is to synthesize that big data into something the user can—and more important, something the user wants to—access, in a simple, easy-to-use way.
The intersection of mobile and big data has an amazing opportunity to make users’ lives easier. There is no vertical or sector where big data cannot be applied to reap great benefits, and it still has vast potential to do more. Think about it. Someone in your household is probably buying something right now using a mobile device in some way—research, a coupon, price comparison, store locations, reviews, loyalty programs, etc. Big data and mobile enable our world to be more personal, local, and social. I believe big data has the potential to be the greatest innovation for the mobile industry since the iPhone’s launch.
The most exciting business models, like the early days of Google and Apple, were about trying to make a better experience for the consumer, simplifying, giving them what they needed. Look at your goals and how big data can help improve consumers’ daily lives, converging online with an offline world. How is your company using big data within mobile?
The future is all about data—the companies that embrace and utilize big data relevant to their business to make decisions and add value for their consumers will be successful. There is a wealth of data available to you, but don’t let it intimidate you. Focus on obtaining unique relevant data, respecting the privacy of consumers, and analyzing data to deliver engaging content, insight, or advertising for consumers at the right time.
So is it Big Data or Mobile that gets you closer to your customer? I’ll let you decide, but my money is on the answer being both—a meaningful, smart collaboration of both.
Cameron Clayton is the president of the digital division at the Weather Company, the parent company of The Weather Channel, weather.com, Weather Underground, WSI, and Intellicast. He also serves as global chair of the Mobile Marketing Association. Follow @weatherchannel.
[Images: Flickr users Angie Harms, Gabriel Allon, Tony Hisgett, and Tim Caynes]