Opinion

Big Data, Small Data — It’s All about How You Use It

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A good friend of mine recently updated his kitchen and showed me his new Sub Zero refrigerator. Think one of those side-by-side behemoths. I had to suppress a grin. All I could think was “slap a couple white and blue covers on that big boy and you’d have a good proxy for mainframe storage.” Think DASD, big iron. That’s how big a hard drive used to be. I remember how I used to work around these gigantic “refrigerator” hard drives that stored a mere 5 gigabytes. These days, you can store several terabytes in a device that would fit in the palm of your hand.

Storage devices have gotten faster, smaller and cheaper and have made it possible to store and access enormous amounts of data. It is now economically possible to keep all kinds of data — such as machine-to-machine data and video data — that we never even thought about keeping in the past. “Big Data” has created a bit of a stir, with companies scrambling to work on Big Data technologies and businesses trying to figure out how to sell to that interest.

Eighteen years ago, I ran a team on Wall Street for IBM — getting DB2 database software across multiple platforms, including data warehouses — that’s what we understood as Big Data back then. Those days, we used to take a lot of data, make a copy of it, put it in a data warehouse and run all kinds of analysis on it. This way, we wouldn’t disrupt an operational system and employees could go about their business as usual.

Today, in spite of the greatly multiplied sources of data, it’s easier to keep all platforms in sync so you can have instant access to your data. The characteristics may be different these days, but businesses still face the same challenge when it comes to data. The question remains: what is the best way to extract the greatest value? Data itself is useless unless you translate that data into easy-to-understand and helpful information for the common user.

We at 3VR have been evangelizing to our customers and partners for a while now that there is a wealth of useful data in a video that can make a business better. This is one of the areas where I’ve seen customers get actual value from Big Data.

Case in point: traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that are fighting to stay relevant in the face of growing online competition. Using video from the surveillance cameras already in their stores, retailers are starting to experiment with analytical tools to get critical real-time insights from their Big (Video) Data.

Most retail organizations only have a limited view of their enterprise, resulting in an inability to centrally manage or mine their video resources for information. What 3VR does at the basic level is give easy access to that information that wasn’t available in an obvious way before, using technology that allows retailers to gain unprecedented visibility into their stores.

3VR, along with other vendors in the retail analytics space, allows merchants to track and measure data, such as the number of people, gender and age of customers, popular dwell zones, queue lines and more, across all their stores. They get real-time insights comparable to what online stores already get in terms of buyer behavior and preferences.

All the information derived or extracted from data, whatever the size, serves to add to our potential to better understand the world around us. Customers stand to benefit from the up-and-coming plethora of solutions that promise to deliver critical information for better decision-making.

However revolutionary or great the technology, the critical differentiator for any tool will be how humans interact with and interpret its use.

3VR provides an easily configurable solution that solves enterprise-wide problems. We aim to help businesses build an intelligent enterprise, access and maximize previously unusable video, and provide intelligence for operations, marketing and merchandising. Big Data is just one piece of the puzzle — its sheer size is just a barometer of all we can discover through the cocktail of volume, variety, velocity, veracity and verisimilitude of data.

Now, imagine how much data we can store in that really big “Sub Zero” today, and rows upon rows of such “refrigerators.” Imagine what you can do if you have the ability to have an answer to any question at any time. That, to me, is the real promise of Big Data.

Al Shipp is CEO of 3VR. A seasoned technology veteran, he joined 3VR from Apple, where he built a world-class sales and marketing group and led the enterprise division to be one of Apple’s most profitable business units. Prior to Apple, Shipp served in senior leadership roles at Inktomi Corporation, BEA Systems and IBM. 

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