Big(ger) Data Pushes The Boundaries

January 9, 2014 in Connected World
Mickey McManus
BCG Senior Advisor

This article first appeared in the SAP Mobile Commerce Guide.

Since the rise of mass-market computing— some 25 years ago—we have been climbing a mountain of technological change. Let’s call it PC Peak. As we approach the timberline, just when we think the summit can’t be too much farther ahead, a much bigger mountain comes into view. Let’s call that one Trillions Mountain. It’s steeper, towering over the current landscape. And the terrain? The uncharted territory at the intersection of pervasive computing and people.

It’s a fantastic and unprecedented journey that lies ahead, taking us from a state where information was contained in PCs and devices to a space where, thanks in part to the advance of mobile, information isn’t ‘in’ anything. Instead, we will live in the information, in a new collective default state of ‘connectedness.’

The number of computing devices now surpasses the number of humans on the planet — and the momentum shows no signs of stopping as companies build microprocessors into everything from cars and clothes, to pills and packaging. Already industry manufactures more transistors than grains of rice and, in a few more years, the number of microprocessors will climb into the trillions, creating a world literally permeated with computation.

To discuss the outcome — in all its majesty and complexity — is beyond the scope of this article. But there are some hugely important developments, largely inevitable, that will impact every single one of us.

For a start, the world of Trillions will encompass much more than the Internet of Things, the vast network that will take shape when embedded sensors gain the ability to communicate, or the vision of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that companies have worked towards for more than a decade.

In a trillion-node-network computing is turned inside out. Systems morph into ecosystems where simplicity is supreme and interoperability becomes a sacrament. More importantly, our connectedness can breed catastrophe if we fail to be disciplined (yet adventurous), rigorous (yet fluid) and open (yet controlled).

We will also have to abandon the idea that people should become computer literate. That’s precisely backward. The hard truth is that computing should (and must!) become human literate. This means saying good-bye to the notion that geek culture, which thrives on obscurity and sees technology as a pleasurable end in itself, should be charged with writing the codebase of humanity’s future. Programmers may be the gods of the microworlds they create, but alone they are not suited to lead the next phase of the Information Revolution.

Moreover, preparing to unleash and exploit trillions of opportunities will require us to build an entirely new information architecture, one very different from the Internet we know today. It must be designed from the bottom up to liberate information, allowing it to flow and flourish. And we must work to ensure that control over much of the data isn’t once again concentrated in the hands of a few powerful companies.

Context adds value

Today, we are arguably on the cusp of a fourth revolution: the Age of Trillions. No one disputes the evolving phenomenon itself, though some argue that it is merely a continuation of the PC revolution. We think that pervasive computing represents a profoundly different relationship of people to information, and that eventually it will be understood as a distinct epoch of human history. As an intrinsically networked phenomenon, it will also continue the historical trend of acceleration. A decade in the era of pervasive computing will bring unimaginable changes.

The impact on all industries will be profound. But the real excitement starts when these microprocessors join the conversation, communicating with themselves and with us.

In the case of retail, for example, the explosion of sensors points the way to a hyper-relevant future where companies can tap into Big Data to understand the in-the-moment context of the consumer to deliver real-time, context-aware offers.

In fact, at MAYA we are working on this right now, developing prototype packaging that can ‘sense’ when consumers — people who likely appreciate the product or intend to purchase the product — are nearby.

Triggered by the person’s presence the package could light up to get their attention or even suggest the consumer buy another product to make the meal complete. In this scenario tortilla chips could suggest a spicy dip as an accompaniment, and the social network of products, enabled by sensors everywhere that infer what we want and need, could ‘manage’ that purchase process all the way down to the real-time delivery of a relevant discount coupon to the customer’s mobile device and chalking up new loyalty points to the supermarket club card.

Transparency and transformation

Banking and finance will also be transformed by pervasive computing. We have worked with a commercial credit ratings agency to enrich its stockpile of business and credit data with unique identifiers for the companies, executives and even locations associated with each organization. This has allowed us to piece together formerly unrelated records about businesses that uncover indicators of fraud and deceit that would have otherwise been completely hidden.

One example that stands out is a businessman who made a habit out of opening companies that started with a good credit rating and then plummeted after he didn’t pay his suppliers or staff. Over time, and as the credit rating fell, he simply closed down the business, fired all the employees and disappeared. In reality he changed his address to the address next door, hired everyone back and got back to business-as-usual.

Framing the information in a Trillions mindset, introduces new and radical transparency. Banks, businesses, even brands, are naked when seen through the Trillions lens, an outcome that has the potential to change the rules — dramatically.

For example, in the heyday of advertising big business was made by convincing consumers that a story about a particular brand was true. After all, the company behind the brand (and its activities) was essentially hidden within a black box. While storytelling will continue to be a powerful means of inspiring and setting the context for a brand, false or misleading storytelling will be the emperor who has no clothes. The accelerated feedback loop and radical transparency of Trillions will drive a blending of marketing and product development so that customers’ true stories and passions about a brand will take center stage.

Big Data, big deal

On the face of it, you could argue that embedding trillions of sensors into devices (from watches to washing machines) and consumer touch points (from in-store displays to outdoor signage) lays the groundwork for Big Data and even bigger opportunities for companies that collect, collate, distribute and monetize what futurist, author and consultant Alan Moore calls the “black gold of the 21st century.”

Little wonder that Fortune magazine has dubbed Big Data ‘the next big thing’. With the rise of digitization, enterprises in industries ranging from telecoms and media, to healthcare and financial services have amassed terabytes of information about their legions of customers. This digital treasure trove, already highly valued as a way to help meet the evolving needs of customers and spot important market trends, can help companies create new products and services, and even spawn entirely new businesses. There are already significant— and competitive — advantages to leveraging Big Data.

Add trillions of sensors to the mix and Big Data gets even bigger, allowing a new breed of companies to get in on the action. Trillions is a very, very big number. New revenue streams in the form of highvolume micro-transactions will become viable. New business models based on little bits of information collected over vast networks will rule the day.

Consider what could happen if you harvested and shared all the information your current products could capture or ‘know’ about their surroundings and use over time. For example, the vibration sensor in my garage door opener can share what it learns in real-time with the tens of millions of other door openers across the country to detect earthquakes (not just moving garage doors). Additionally, optical sensors on those same garage door openers can capture information about the degradation of paint on car surfaces that may be invaluable to paint manufacturers.

Data exhaust

Today, there is a lot of what I like to call ‘exhaust data’ that companies do not yet capture or monetize, virtually throwing it away. In the Trillions world there will be no waste. Instead, we’ll have a kind of information carbon cycle that will close the loop on data the way that the carbon cycle in nature recycles the building blocks of life. Nothing goes to waste, and if you don’t move fast enough you become food for something else.

It’s all about understanding the value of your information and planning for an economy built on t-commerce (trillions commerce). This approach to Big Data can fuel big(ger) growth for your business. The importance of this change cannot be overstated, which is why we strongly advise companies to explore ways to foster relationships (even with strange bedfellows) and make sure that their products are part of the information flow. In the Age of Trillions every product becomes an accessory to every other product or service.

The value of the information you collect, the needs you discover, the patterns that emerge, and the behaviors that you can foster is inestimable. After all, anything multiplied by a trillion is an interesting number. But the biggest benefit may be to your customers, people that will have come to expect, even demand, relevance in marketing, communications, applications, services — everything — because technology and data have come together to make it all possible.

Big(ger) Data Pushes the Boundaries

The SAP Mobile Commerce Guide is produced and edited by Peggy Anne Salz of MobileGroove Media.

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