“Big data is a big pain in the arse. There’s a lot of it, and it’s all over the place.”
Those were the words of Robert Strickland, a former ‘c-level’ exec with T-Mobile USA and Leap Wireless, now turned consultant, speaking at the WeDo Worldwide User Group Conference late last month. And, in a nutshell, it sums up the key problems facing telecom operators in the new world of digital services.
Big data has been one of the industry’s biggest buzz phrases in recent years, being touted almost as a universal panacea that will change our lives in ways unimaginable only a few years ago, as we all drive our connected cars through our smart cities, where seemingly every aspect of our lives is ‘improved’ by the data collected on us by businesses across industries.
“It’s about customers, and brands, and revenue, and if you make a customer mad, how many people do they tell and how fast?” Strickland observed.
Operators are among the parties looking to leverage big data, and about this time last year we wrote about SK Planet’s efforts to use big data in order to anticipate when a customer may churn, and then target them with retention campaigns.
But the amount of data operators are able to collect has ballooned through the transition to data-centric networks and the proliferation of new connected devices – which is only set to grow as the internet of things becomes a reality.
“For the techy people, the [IP-centric] world is a lot easier than it was in the past. But the quantity of data that’s produced is incredible,” Rui Paiva, CEO of WeDo Technologies, told Mobile World Live.
But not all things are created equal. Some data is valuable, some less so, some worthless. Some needs to be treated in real time, some not.
“It comes down to if we are able to treat the data, and if it makes sense or not to treat all that data. There is so much stupid data, that we need to put intelligence into applications in order to validate which is the relevant part to be treated,” Paiva continued.
Speaking at the same event, Luis Campos, big data solutions lead for Oracle in EMEA, said that the concept of collecting and storing data without a clear purpose from the outset requires a “fundamental change of mindset” for a business, and that the decision about what to process, keep or discard “will only get more complex”.
Underpinning this is the need to show how big data can be used to benefit a business, rather than as a potential liability with questionable value – viewing it as an asset, rather than a cost.
Of course, the issue of data ownership is also a constant. Many businesses have – for good reason – grown up with different systems creating different silos of information, leading to duplication, discrepancies, and an inability to get the full picture across an organisation.
Add in acquisitions and the need to continue support for some legacy systems, and it becomes clear that these challenges are likely to live on at least in the medium term.
And another constant is the issue of privacy. Previously, I have been in the audience at events where this was treated as little more than a side concern, which would need to be addressed but was not central to the debate.
This time, however, at several points during WeDo’s event privacy was placed central not only to the debate, but also in the way in which it was suggested big data is handled.
Andreas Manolis, group head of the revenue assurance portfolio at BT, said: “It has to be post security and privacy controls. We’re not going to go in and get access to all this data without that obligation to all our customers. But post that filter, we have a brand new world.”
“When it’s used to benefit customers, and you’ve anonymised the data, you have a real value proposition.”
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