Much has been said about big data in recent years. From data lakes and geographical locations to analytics and technology tools, the opportunity for businesses to understand their customers using behaviour analytics represents a holy grail.

Many organisations are working to sort and secure their own data in order to start gleaning insight, but big data as we know it has evolved. Instead, there are three specific areas that offer the biggest opportunity for businesses to start making the most of this valuable resource.

Gathering the right information

The first area of interest is insight brokerage - pulling different data sets together from differing sources, outside the parameters of one particular business. This could be from various organisations offering their data for purchase, open source data or personal data from social media accounts.

Companies increasingly want to develop a continuing dialogue with customers, and therefore need a clear picture of who they are to build brand loyalty. The data surrounding people, places and things has become known as “code halos”, the development of which has focused on observing and analysing buying behaviour, acquiring patterns and product adjacencies that then lead to up-selling, cross-selling and future purchase recommendations.

However, embedded technology and real-time analytics will focus increasingly on point of acquisition behaviour and influence customers with hyper-personalised offers, to incentivise a certain type of behaviour at a confluence of many conditions, from time of day, location to weather and other real-time metrics.

Big data and machine learning combined provide opportunity for businesses as they can preempt customer behaviour and act accordingly. One key element to note is that the vast majority of people who want a social media presence, already have one. The challenge is to use these pools of immensely valuable information to truly understand what our customers will want and when.

Smart data

The second area of interest is digital information. This is the ability to listen to what customers are saying across multiple sources and adapt to what is important to them in real-time using technological advances. This is a big task, but an essential one.

The Internet of Things (IoT) means that this information is particularly useful for any organisation that can embed sensors into their client interactions such as utilities and energy companies. They can monitor individual customer behaviours and preferences to offer micro-personalisation and rewards. For example, British Gas’ Hive allows the company to understand its customers’ behavioural patterns, from the time they get home from work to when they turn on the oven or do their washing. This gives British Gas a real-time view of the consumer’s lifestyle leading to things like providing customised offers based on these insights.

Rise of the machines

Businesses need to access these pools of information to underpin their digital transformations and many organisations are seeing data as the critical foundation for building their transformation strategy. Machine learning is key in digital information strategy; however, businesses need to go one step further and embrace data economics - securing real monetary value from that data.

With data offering so much value, there is a growing demand among businesses to harness it and make the most of the opportunities it offers. This is set to lead to the emergence of Information-as-a-Service. It will mean harvesting the right data quickly from multiple different sources and having the answers ready in seconds, to address pressing business challenges that may not be immediately visible.

Looking to the future

Gartner recently said that the future will be machine learning. While big data is evolving and machine learning is playing an increasingly prominent role, the future of big data is more than machine learning alone. By harnessing the opportunities presented by machine learning and insight brokerage, and to compete in the market, businesses of the future will need to embrace a fully information-enabled digital strategy.


By Ian West, Vice President – Analytics & Information Management, Cognizant


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