Big Data: the EU's next ‘big’ thing

big dataIf the EU’s 2020 strategy is to put its economies onto a high and sustainable growth path, Europe will need to strengthen its innovative potential and use its resources to best effect. One such resource is public data that bodies in the EU produce, collect and pay for which has significant and currently untapped potential for re-use in new products and services to the tune of € 40 billion a year. To coin a phrase from the 2009 Digital Britain report, data is ‘the innovation currency’.

Such was the topic of a debate of the EU Committee of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels this October, held under Chatham House rules. Indeed every day we see the amount of available data increase. Companies gather more and more data about their customers, suppliers and employees. Social networks and our presence on the web fuel exponential growth in data. By the same token we also have more and better analysis tools and capacity at hand, given the combination of the power of cloud computing and the availability of super computers.

‘The combination of both will result in the fact that exploration and analysis of vast data sets will become more and more a basis of competition,‘ comments AHEAD’s Managing Partner Guy Vereecke. ‘And that means that candidates, from now on, will need skill sets in tune with this new demand’.

McKinsey Global Institute, for instance, identifies that if US healthcare were to use Big Data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year.

In Europe, governments could save more than €100 billion in operational efficiency improvement alone by using Big Data, not including using Big Data to reduce fraud and error and boost the collection of tax revenues.’

This explains why ‘Big Data’ is high on the agenda of governments. The G20 links clearly the ‘open data agenda’ with innovation. The European Commission sees the benefits of the use of large data sets. They can improve the quality of the life of the citizens by e.g. improving traffic flows, car safety … but also by stimulating transparency, such as in which hospital do I have the best chance to have a successful operation.

In different industries we see that ‘Big Data’ enable companies to recognize better the wishes of their customers and allow a more anticipative approach both in offering existing and new products and services.
  • UPS introduced a new routing software combining different datasets resulting in an economy of almost 32 million litres of gas a year.
  • The Royal Bank of Scotland introduced a new analysis tool combining different data sets which resulted that a credit-analysis which used to take three weeks can now be done in less than a minute. This gives them an edge.
  • Power companies use Big Data to estimate their needed energy production levels.
This leads of course to the discussion of the dilemma between an important civil right: privacy versus transparency. The general feeling is that ‘privacy is paramount’ or that individual data should be protected, but that ‘aggregated’ data should be available for public use. In general we can state that ‘the larger the dataset the less important it is to know who is in it.’ This makes us say that ‘data on me is mine but if they are combined with others they become public.’

The overall feeling is that ‘Big Data will make the world a better place’ e.g. the United Nations did a study that showed the potential of ‘sentiment’ analysis on social media allowed governments to predict the unemployment figures at least three months in advance. This could allow them to act more proactive by boosting the economy through lower interest rates much faster.

It is clear that data is big and ‘Big Data’ is really big. It will also have their impact on the labour force. The McKinsey Global Institute foresees that ‘there will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of Big Data. By 2018, the US alone could face a shortage of 140.000 to 190.000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1,5 million managers with the know-how to use the analysis of Big Data to make effective decisions.’

‘Sure, professionals with strong analytical skills have been in demand for decades,’ adds Guy. 'Already those with the latest in-depth analytics skills and experience are highly sought after. But the potential of Big Data takes demand for such profiles to another level, not to mention for those senior and middle managers with the know-how to exploit it. Already companies like IBM are engaging with academia to deliver the advanced skills they need. In that respect, this Next Big Thing is already a reality.’

Clearly a hot topic to be followed with interest.…