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A review of Big Data in Business

On Thursday 20 October the BLGDRC, alongside the Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) and the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project (HRBDT), hosted the second of our Talk Big Data event series. We were delighted to be joined by Jasmine Birtles (Founder, Money Magpie), Helen Simpson (Professor, University of Bristol) and Ian Hutchinson (Lead Software Developer, Projects by IF).

The panel discussion was chaired by Professor Neil Kellard, from Essex Business School, and considered the role that Big Data can play in businesses and whether they should be seen as a help or a hindrance. The panel demonstrated that Big Data exist in businesses from the local shop to multinational corporations, and explored the opportunities to use these data to empower business and enhance public policy.

       The ‘Big Data in Business’ panel members

As well as describing how data can help to empower consumers Jasmine Birtles also questioned whether use of data would always act in the interest of consumers and make things fairer, or whether it could sometimes lead to certain consumer groups being excluded from access to particular products or services. She has seen examples of it working both ways and believes that caution is needed when businesses collect and use Big Data.

Ian Hutchinson explained that while he doesn’t work directly with sets of Big Data, his organisation helps to create user interfaces for systems which rely on a huge amount of data. He’s very aware of the power that Big Data have to make a big difference to businesses – he talked about one organisation which used machine learning algorithms to assess the performance data coming from its server room and in turn reduced its electricity bill by 40%. In the future he believes that Big Data are only going to get bigger and therefore it’s important that businesses understand how to use them, and that the people which data refer to know how their information is being used.

Professor Helen Simpson has used very large datasets in her research, and explained to the audience that Big Data can be found everywhere. She also explained how data used in research are carefully controlled and was able to reassure the audience that data used for research in university’s is restricted to projects which have the potential to benefit the public.

During the event we also collected data of our own by surveying the audience using a clicker system.

At the start of the event 29% of the audience felt they understood nothing at all about Big Data, 55% understood “a little” and just 17% understood “a lot”. By the end of the event we were very pleased to see these results improve significantly with 34% understanding “a lot” and 60% understanding “a little”. These figures are shown in the chart below.

We also encouraged the audience to join in the conversation on Twitter using #talkbigdata. The word cloud below shows the most common words used in these tweets – thank you to everybody who joined in and please continue to use the hashtag if you’d like to comment further about Big Data.

I’d like to finish by saying a big thank you to our chair and panel members, the University of Essex for hosting the event and of course to everybody who came along and joined in. We hope you’ll join us for the remaining events in this series.

Blog post by Professor Vania Sena (Director of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre and Professor at Essex Business School), please email us if you’d like to discuss any of the content of this post.

Published 21 October 2016