This is the first post in a series interviewing the practice leaders at Utegration. Check back soon for more topics.
Henry Le, VP of Analytics and Big Data at Utegration, answers this question and more in the interview below:
Big Data is a relatively broad buzzword – a 2014 Forbes article entitled 12 Big Data Definitions: What’s Yours? gives readers a whole list of definitions – but what does the term mean to you?
The term “big data” can be misleading. It doesn’t have to be a “big” amount of data, but rather refers to a complete, comprehensive data set about a subject we can analyze and provide insight on.
What does that mean for the utility industry, in practical terms?
For utility distribution companies, big data can look like anything from incident reports to maintenance work to the demographic of people consuming a given utility resource. This means any data points for which we can gather and analyze information, run models, and develop reports about things like cost and correlation that ultimately help companies operate more safely and efficiently.
Why is big data gathering so much attention in recent years? Why is it important?
The emergence of big data as a technological phenomenon is really the convergence of a few trends. For one, technology now enables us to make usable data out of all of the information around us. For example, if you think about the GPS systems and applications everyone uses in their mobile phones, on their computers, etc. – years ago technology didn’t enable us to access this kind of information. Now, we can pinpoint the precise location of a given person or device with pinpoint accuracy. This gives us more data than ever to analyze, which is another reason we’re seeing big data talked about more and more. Finally, the technology for storing, analyzing, and processing data used to be very expensive – it was a capability only governments or huge companies possessed. Now, with cloud technology, virtually any business can store and analyze a large volume of data.
In the future – maybe ten years or more down the line, there are a few key areas that are going to drive value for business. I think big data, alongside technological innovations like robotics and artificial intelligence, will be one of them. It’s likely that the future will see us attempting to bring all of these technologies together, applying them to more and more areas within different industries and across businesses, in order to continue the trend towards speed, efficiency, and simplicity.
We know that big data is a buzzword, but it’s still not a standard across businesses. What are some of the challenges around getting companies to adopt solutions for big data?
For one, individuals and companies need to develop an acceptance of gathering and using big data. From a more abstract perspective, we can’t solve a problem with the same thinking we used when the problem was created. It is human nature to try to understand why a problem occurred, but with big data we focus less on the why and more on finding and analyzing correlations in order to find solutions. A big hurdle is to get people to throw out the old way of solving problems and accept big data using a whole new perspective.
There’s also an interesting ethical dilemma that big data creates. With the ever increasing availability of datasets, as we talked about earlier, there is a large volume of easily accessible data floating around. In a capitalist market, companies are going to try to monetize that data in any way they can. Is this fair from a personal privacy perspective? Think about telemarketing companies, or even newer companies like Facebook and Google – there’s a constant battle going on between continuing to expand access to information and allowing people to retain their security and privacy. Society is still forming its view on how we should use this data, and it will undoubtedly evolve in the years to come.
Which way do you think that scale will tip? Towards more access or more privacy?
It’s hard to predict the future, but for now, it seems to be about the cost and benefit of using this data. Consumers are usually willing to give data as long as their perceived benefit outweighs the cost. Think again of Facebook – people are okay with giving up some measure of privacy if it means that they can access the information they want. Perhaps it will be about keeping that balance as much as possible, even as technology develops.
In a piece from energycentral.com, leaders from four large utilities were interviewed about their thoughts on Big Data and where it will take the industry going forward. The CTO of the previously mentioned Houston-based energy company shared his thoughts on Big Data, “Dealing with big data requires a change in mindset. We recognize big data as an organizational asset providing opportunities to derive value beyond the intent for which it was originally created… Data analytics and advanced data analytics tools provide practically unlimited analyses of data yielding insights such as situational awareness, decision making, customer segmentation and sentiment, financial and regulatory analysis, field equipment operational status, and potential new business opportunities.”
We’ll continue to track the growth of big data and its significance to the utility industry in the years to come. In the meantime, head on over to SAP’s big data solutions homepage to read about more big data trends, watch videos on how big data can affect your business, and more.