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Why securing the value of Big Data matters

By Gavin Meggs, Director of Data, Insight and Analytics at O2. 

Big Data has been part of business vocabulary for twenty years now, but in that time its definition has grown from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data.

Whilst many predicted the growth in the overall size of data that organisations collect, few predicted its variability. Where once text was stored in neatly structured relational databases, now businesses collect audio, video, images and other media that demand new architectures and structures.

It is the speed with which data is being created that has really taken us all by surprise. Our smartphones and wearable devices, together with Internet of Things (IoT) devices in our homes and our vehicles at work, each capture our browsing habits, our movements and other preferences or behaviour.

Organisations are collecting, storing and analysing all this data to determine how best to make use of it, and how it can deliver insight for business decisions. In order to maximise the value from data collected organisations need to be able to act on the data at speed and in an agile way – adapting quickly to changes in consumer and business environments and in response to developing business strategies.

Build it and they will come

Interestingly, when companies first started talking about Big Data it was regarded as an IT issue. Although substantial data investments were made, the business outcomes and use cases were often poorly defined – typically providing more noise than useful insight. There was a “build it and they will come” mentality, driven in part by a perception of future loss, but also a fear of needing to keep up with what other organisations were doing.

In today’s approach to leveraging the power of Big Data the focus is on solving business issues. Data investments are now considered and evaluated in terms of return on investment and the actionable insights that can be used to help achieve specific business objectives.

So, what’s it actually worth?

This change has led to Chief Data Officers (CDOs) considering carefully the value of the data that they hold or need to purchase, both in terms of the commercial advantages that it brings, and the efficiencies it can deliver. It has also been driven by Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) who demand a return on their investments in Big Data capability and by Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) who need to leverage the power of Big Data in an increasingly complex consumer landscape. For many though, it may not be easy to measure the “true” value of the data an organisation can access when the results aren’t always immediately tangible.

Take Jacobs Engineering for example. They were able to improve the value of their analysis by increasing sample sizes, while simultaneously reducing project costs. Jacobs had traditionally relied on paper-based, road side surveys to help plan their infrastructure projects across the UK, before moving to using O2 Smart Steps data. By doing so they had access to more than 3 billion mobile network activities from across the UK each day, including commuters on buses, bikes and trains (determined by the speed and number/location of stops) rather than just the vehicles they had previously stopped and questioned at a survey point. The tangible value of their aggregated and anonymised data could be measured in terms of the reduction in project costs. Multi billion-pound engineering projects rely on the data analysis underpinning them, so even more important was the intangible value in the richness of the data they used, and the insight it provided.

We believe that there are three challenges for every Big Data business:

1. Security

The Equifax credit agency cyberattack in 2017 may have affected almost half the US population, and provided ample evidence that hackers think big when they look for targets. However, small operations can also suffer security breaches, potentially without any knowledge of being attacked.

“Just under half (46%) of all businesses identified at least one breach or attack in the last year”

The Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017

2. Compliance

Data compliance requirements are applicable across a number of different industries – such as Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MIFID II) for financial institutions. The new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) should help to prevent the “capture it now, worry about what to do with it later” approach to data. And even though the threat of prosecution and fines is seen as “scary” by some, it also provides an intriguing opportunity to take a more strategic approach to collecting, interpreting and using customer data.

3. Access

With the cloud rapidly becoming the natural home for data, there are new questions for organisations to answer, such as: Who owns the data? Who is responsible for it? Who can access it? Where is it stored? At O2 we are cloud experts, having supported many organisations in executing complex data migrations. You can find out more here.

Working with third parties

In certain industries, third party data can provide organisations with insight that isn’t achievable through the use of their own data alone, and may come with fewer, or reduced security risks.

In retail, O2’s own Smart Steps uses anonymous data (including gender, affluence, age and movement detail) to help identify the factors that influence the number of people visiting a particular location. It supports retailers in determining the optimum locations and formats for new stores, and can also measure the effects of advertising locations and propensity to buy, and the impact of high street changes such as the introduction of parking restrictions, farmers markets or late-night shopping.

O2 also has developed a mobile messaging and advertising platform, Weve. It enables smart access to more than 23 million verified people and provides a cost-effective means of engaging with the right customers at the right time, which may help reduce compliance and security risk – because those risks are managed for you by O2.

Remember, though, that however compelling the third-party options may be, the most effective way to maximise and protect the investment you plan to make is to start with the business problem you want to solve. If you recognise the problem, and identify how your data can deliver the solution, then you will understand both the tangible and intangible value it brings to your organisation.

How can we help?

What is your data worth? And what Big Data opportunities do you see ahead? Big Data undoubtedly provides significant insight for organisations to make bold and decisive decisions.

With Big Data ownership also comes great responsibility, and ensuring that your data is protected is something we can also help with. We have a diverse set of products designed to help reduce the risks across mobile and fixed estates.

O2 offers a Cyber Security Assessment report that can help identify the IT security strengths and weaknesses across your estate. To discuss this, and for other ways we can help you to realise the value of your Big Data, call us on 0800 955 5590.

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