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Big Data Belfast 2016 – What a difference a year makes
22 June 2016 | Posted by Siona Murray

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Big Data Belfast 2016 conference in the spectacular Titanic building. I attended the same conference last year and have been to numerous meetups in the past 12 months. So this got me thinking about how far the data analytics space has come over the course of the last year…

The Cognitive Age

Andrew Grill of IBM gave a forward thinking talk entitled ‘Big Data in the Cognitive Age’. He spoke about the history of computing and how it follows a pattern of new exciting eras. Starting with the tabulating era where compute power was harnessed via punch cards, to the programming era, to now – where we are on the cusp of the cognitive era. Whereby we tell computers what to think, they learn and improve over time.

He contended that: big data + cognitive = secret sauce

I would agree that this has definitely been trending over the past 12 months and something we should anticipate continued growth in. Data driven cognitive learning has already made an impact on creating deeper human engagement with products and services. A great example of such, is a children’s toy which learns their name, favourite colours, games etc. in order to interact better with the child and improve their learning experience. This is something which we should expect to gain greater momentum in 2016 and beyond.

You’ve got some data, you’re doing analytics to drive decision making and give you a competitive edge. The next step is how can you make your data think for itself?

The Internet of Things

Between 2015 and 2016 it has become apparent the Internet of Things (IoT) is here now and it’s hot property. Jim Anning from British Gas spoke about how they’re actively utilising sensor data to provide real value to their customers. They’re using Hive smart thermostats (not to be confused with the data warehouse infrastructure built on top of Hadoop) to better serve their customers with a tailored, personalised experience. Via their BoilerIQ service they are able to perform predictive maintenance, monitoring boiler performance and rectifying potential problems before customers are left in the cold, literally. Unless you are performing the analytics in the middle you are left with a data value gap. This is something which I believe will have greater prevalence in the next 12 months as more and more businesses realise the worth of gathering their data; be that from IoT sensor devices, customer journeys etc. but are less sure about how to analyse it to derive value.

Real time

The next big industry challenge is real time. A trend that you will notice is common to almost all of the recent blogs produced by our company’s data analytics practice. With the IoT becoming more mainstream, analytics itself needs to become more dynamic. Algorithms may follow the same core design but change based on their location application – cascading analytics. For example, there are different needs for cloud, edge gateway and device analytics and algorithms should be able to tailor themselves to suit the need – like a neural network for IoT analytics. More comprehensive data discovery should be performed at higher compute stack and insight fed forward to mobile device algorithms.

“Innovation in IoT is all about us. It doesn’t work without us, the design of its core components are based on us, and will evolve just like us” – Denis Canty – Tyco

Not so big data

Another key shift that I noticed at this year’s conference and indeed in the time leading up to it – the use of the term “big data” is becoming less and less prevalent. As I anticipated in last year’s blog post, the use of the term this year was largely constrained to speaking about high volumes of data. Rather than a buzz word to describe the data analytics space.

Analytics transforms healthcare

The breakout session “Patient & Analytics” further compounded the impact of data analytics on healthcare and indeed that clinicians have become more trusting in the role that analytics will play in the future of medicine. Analytics has had an undisputed impact on healthcare – from more successful clinical trials, precision medicine and research that can now be advanced due to the reduced cost of gathering and exploring data. Shane McKee of the Belfast Trust was incredibly positive about these advancements:

“This is going to change the whole world and it has to!” – Shane McKee – Belfast Trust

I share Shane’s enthusiasm and given the rate at which progress is being made in the data analytics space, am genuinely excited to see what the next 12 months hold!

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