My grandmother used to say “They don’t keep good stuff in big heaps”. This is true for things such as fine china porcelain or old masters. But raw materials can both be in large heaps and have relative high value. Even in its current depleted state, gold at £890 an ounce or thereabouts, is still worth panning for.
A modern ‘big heap’ is data. Sitting as a very large lump on a server, it appears more liability than asset, but in aggregate, and with the tools to analyse it, its true value is enormous. President Obama is thought to have used Big Data technology to power his re-election campaign.
So a definition. Big data is the term for a collection of data sets so large and complex that it’s difficult to process it using database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges are many and various. Just capturing and storing it is a major issue, and that’s before one might consider the problems of searching, sharing, transferring, analysing or visualising it.
Not surprisingly, vendors such as IBM are keen to promote the concept. This month it published a case study for Two Degrees Mobile (2degrees), New Zealand’s newest mobile communications provider. Part of the mobile operator’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is outstanding customer service, and to achieve that, it needed to effectively analyse its customer data.
The problem it faced was that as the subscriber base grew, so did the time and effort required to analyse the data being generated. The larger the data set to work with, the longer it took staff to analyse, and the resulting offer or response was less timely or appropriate.
Having deployed an appropriate IBM solution, the mobile operator has been able to triple its data warehouse storage capacity, which has allowed it to run more in-depth analysis on a greater volume of data, giving staff deeper insight into customers’ experiences.
Crucially this approach has allowed staff to identify specific groups of subscribers who could potentially benefit from a new network solution, out of a subscriber base of 60,000. Incidentally, query performance is reported to have accelerated by a factor of 10 to 100 times, whilst data load times have improved by 40 percent.
This is just one example, but analyst firm Informa Telecoms & Media reckon that the management of Big Data is a major opportunity for telecom operators to develop new business models beyond traditional connectivity. Big Data is a concept that originated from the Internet companies, which started analysing enormous quantities of data in real time to drive their business decision making processes.
Yet the arrival of the smartphone means that Telco Big Data is now also arriving, albeit still at a very early stage. Informa is suggesting that operators still do not have a full understanding of the business opportunities that it can generate yet anyone using a Website in Europe will know about the Cookie Law. This is a belated response by the European Union to attempt to ‘protect’ citizens from Google’s targeted advertising model, which uses its vast data mountain to determine users potential needs. Sadly, for me, it tends to promote items I have just purchased rather than items I have a need for but have not yet initiated a Google search for, but it can only be a matter of time before Google cracks this one with its advanced algorithms.
And as with Two Degrees example, the telecoms industry is starting implement Big Data. Although these first examples are still far from building a solid proposition, they are providing a good opportunity for operators to test new applications that will influence how Big Data will evolve in the future.
Most telco Big Data initiatives are focused on specific business applications, but opportunities in future will demand a broader approach of building a platform for several different business needs.
There is an emerging dynamic vendor competition landscape. The Big Data framework is not well defined yet and there are analytics to be found in various areas within operators. The expectation is that, as the market evolves, the different vendors will focus on specific capabilities and collaboration.
Telecoms operators finally have a good opportunity to generate new business models beyond traditional connectivity. Internet companies started the concept of Big Data by analysing an enormous quantity of data in real time to drive business decisions. Telecoms operators already collect thousands of different items of data, including usage, content and location, in their networks and no other industry has its customers interacting with the company 24 hours a day, seven days a week as telecom operators do with their customers connected to their networks.
However, telecoms operators are still far behind many other industries (e.g., Internet, retailers, etc.) in being able to monazite this opportunity. This is not only due to the complexity of the operators’ environment relying on various different data sources (e.g., network, BSS/OSS, CRM, customer care, marketing, etc.), but also to their very siloed organisation which presents a challenge for an optimised data organisation.
According to a survey on telco Big Data that Informa conducted in June 2013, Big Data is still ranked as a low priority by operators as most of their focus is still on efficiency, network optimisation and customer experience management (CEM). However, these priorities are strongly linked to Big Data. Being able to analyse a large volume of customer data could help operators optimise their processes and improve their margins while at the same time provide a better understanding of the current customer experience, which offers the opportunity to improve the customers’ overall experience of the service.
To read more, check out ‘Big Data: Building the next business platform for telecoms operators‘, which details the first initiatives of Big Data in telecoms, evaluating the challenges and opportunities for operators as well as the vendor footprint and competition.