Science Interviews


Tue, 17th Nov 2015

Big data: what is it good for?

Sue Daley, Tech UK

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With us now is Sue Daley - head of big data, cloud and mobile at TechUK, which isUber China an organisation representing over eight hundred and fifty technology companies. Sue explains to Chris Smith the worldwide nature of big data.

Sue -   I think the UK's in a great world leading position in terms of what we’re doing with big data so far but, you are right, it is global.  Big data or data as we know is the digital currency that powers our digital economy all the way round the world, and we can see examples of big data in action wherever you may be.  For example, if it’s finding your name on that fizzy coke or drinks bottle, or turning on your digital TV and finding that movie or that box set you’ve been talking about or hearing about all day long.  The CERN hydron collider, for example, is using big data technologies and technologies and  tools to find the answers to our universe so, yes it is a global phenomenon. 

Chris - David Willits said famously there “five years of data adds up to more than all of mankind’s endeavours previous to that time”.  What’s driving that?

Sue - Well, it’s true.  We see that its estimated that 90% of the world's data today was  created in the last two years alone. But I would say it’s not just the volume of the data that’s really important, or what’s different perhaps now.  It’s the coming together of different types of data, all in real time and that’s really the significant difference.

Chris - And technology?

Sue - And also having the advanced technological tools and solutions that the technology industry is developing and making available but organisations can find those insights , that knowledge, that needle in the data haystack that enables them to use data more creatively.  But that wouldn’t be possible either without cloud computing that enables all that data to be stored and processed and managed.

Chris - You’d better explain what the cloud computing concept is and what that means.

Sue - So cloud computing is a term for the ability of organisations to gain access to really complex, high powered computing resources, on demand, 24 by 7, delivered direct to your mobile device or you at home or at work.

Chris -   I suppose one of the ways of looking at this is to say, well I could have a very powerful computer at home, and I could install loads of software on it to use that software once a week to work out my tax return, or something.  On the other hand, I could rely on a very good computer to run that same piece of software somewhere in the middle of nowhere, let it grind through that data and then return it to me the results that I need to put into my tax return without me actually having to do any of that processing.

Sue - Yes. I think it’s really important to remember that big data technologies and tools are not just for the large, big huge companies  or multinational organisations and the cloud is really enabling us all to take advantage of the big data revolution.

Chris - Can you give us some examples of how industry and, academ perhaps, are using this sort of technology and using this resource which has now come of age for all of us?

Sue - Some great examples of organisations that are using cloud computing, for example, you might be listening to this in a room that you booked through Air B & B. That’s using cloud computing.  You might be listening to this in your car that your ordered over UBA.  These again are examples organisations that are using the ability and agility and flexibility of cloud computing.  The ability to scale up their IT resources and scale down their IT resources, as and when they need it.

Chris - I was talking the other day to someone who owns a major supermarket chain in another country and, interestingly, he said to me “having introduced a customer loyalty card, they now know who shops where, they know what they buy, the know what volumes of things they buy when” and they’re even talking about saying well we then know when someone moves to another city temporarily or goes on holiday, they’ve got techniques they’re developing to ping them a message and lure them into the shop locally.  So that, even though they’re on holiday, they still nonetheless do their weekly shop with that company.

Sue - Yes.  So I think the way the companies or organisations are using data, so using big data tools and techniques to gain that insight, that knowledge from structured and unstructured data coming together, that can then be turned into a value. So that might be reducing costs, it might be driving efficiency but, more importantly, what’s the value to us in terms of systems and, as you say, when you are away on holiday you can still get goods and products and services that are tailored to your likes and dislikes and meet your needs.  It's helping to make all our digital lives a little bit easier.

Where do you think this is going next?  Where’s the next big thing, or what is going to be the real outcome from big data from and industrial and corporate point of view?

Sue - When I look to the future, it’s a really exciting time.  We’ve got the coming of age of the big data revolution, but combined with that, as we’ve just talked about the power of cloud computing now.  Bring that together with the emergence and the rise of the interneter thing, so the internet moving away from computers and the internet into everyday devices.  Whether that’s wearables, your smart oven or your smart heaters at home.  I think it’s a really exciting time and I think big data’s at the heart of the U.K. digital future.



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