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12/11/2012
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Ellis Booker
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Big Data's Surprising Uses: From Lady Gaga To CIA

As big data analytics rapidly become mainstream, the technology shows promise in many unexpected places. Check out who's tapping into big data.




Every human endeavor generates mountains of data. And those mountains get bigger every year.

IBM estimates 2.5 quintillion bytes (2.5 exabytes) of data are created every day from a variety of sources, including sensors, social media and billions of mobile devices. By some estimates, 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

Likewise, the volume of data traversing the Internet has seen explosive growth. In its annual Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast earlier this year, Cisco predicted a 4x increase in the size of the Internet, reaching nearly 19 billion connections and devices. "The projected increase of global IP traffic between 2015 and 2016 alone is more than 330 exabytes, which is almost equal to the total amount of global IP traffic generated in 2011 (369 exabytes)," Cisco said in a statement.

But until recently, only a few types of organizations -- primarily big companies and well-funded government agencies -- could justify the hardware and software needed to collect and analyze all that information.

The leading adopters were telecommunications companies, working with massive and growing amounts of real-time traffic, and government security agencies, watching for sinister actors and suspicious connections across a broad number of data sources.

But now the ability to store massive data sets is within reach for many.

While there are plenty of specialized uses for big data analytics -- such as a fraud-detection model for a credit card company handling tens of millions of cards and transactions -- one of the broadest applications has been in marketing. Marketers have been quick to see the promise of modeling the activities of their customers across multiple channels (in-store, online, call center, CRM, mobile, social media) to understand implicit preferences and build predictive models.

Moreover, public sources -- notably, the oceans of data flowing from social media -- allow the curious to collect millions of conversations and hunt for patterns. Finally, a new generation of business leaders is embracing the idea of data-driven decision making.

Indeed, big data (along with cloud computing and mobile) will be responsible for a predicted increase in IT spending worldwide, according to figures released at Gartner's annual Gartner Symposium/ITexpo earlier this year. Gartner predicts worldwide IT spending will surpass $3.7 trillion in 2013, a 3.8% increase from 2012. The research company said worldwide IT spending will surpass $4 trillion by 2015.

So big data and its associated analytics have found a home in virtually every industry. Which begs the question: If Lady Gaga uses it, why aren't you?

Check out some of the surprising uses and users of big data today.

Image credit: Marcus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Troy Carter, Lady Gaga's business manager, is a big data devotee, reports The South China Morning Post. Carter created Littlemonsters.com, a Gaga-centric social network, by mining the singer's 31 million plus fans on Twitter and 51 million plus on Facebook. The reported goal is to woo as many of Gaga's "little monsters" as possible to this site, effectively bypassing the general-purpose social media networks and keeping 100% of future revenues.

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Eager to manage runaway costs -- even before the arrival of Obamacare mandates -- healthcare organizations are rapidly adopting advanced data analytics. Among the many benefits outlined in an article in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) were personalization of care, defining patient populations, mining claims data for insights and advancing medical research. Best of all, the data should inform clinical best practices, leading to better patient outcomes.

Image credit: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Imagine a world with ubiquitous wireless devices and sensors, all interacting and communicating their status and activities. That machine-to-machine (M2M) future, which is already happening in industrial settings, is starting to break out into the consumer market thanks to developments like NFC and Bluetooth 4. Big data analytics will be essential for companies looking to create services on top of these cacophonous communication networks.

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While Hollywood movies portray shadowy government agencies as having unlimited technology, data and experts, things may be more routine in real life. For instance, apparently even the Central Intelligence Agency is searching for data scientists. "All of CIA's directorates -- the National Clandestine Service and the Directorates of Intelligence, Support and Science and Technology -- are looking for curious, creative individuals interested in serving their country through the field of data science," reads the job posting on CIA.gov.

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Gamers may be the most engaged of all computer users, and their behaviors could be the key to other forms of consumer interaction. At least that's the hope of Badgeville, a startup that sells gamification technology for measuring and influencing user behavior. "Our company is recording very deep behavioral data on millions of players per month, and we're capturing billions of behaviors and actions on monthly basis," CEO Kris Duggan told InformationWeek earlier this year.

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There are many data issues when it comes to alternative energy sources like wind and solar. Not only can the gear show up in many more locations on the grid, these forms of electrical production are variable, depending on environmental conditions. Add in the so-called "smart grid," whereby electrical consumers can flow their excess production back onto the network, and result is the need for much more monitoring and measurement, which means much more data.

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Researchers worldwide are using big data techniques to investigate climate change. Less discussed is how the insurance industry is using the same advanced modeling techniques to prepare for the planet's changing weather. Take The Climate Corporation, which has created "fully automated weather insurance products" using big data analytics.

Image credit: porbital / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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For years now, big data has helped 1-800-Flowers ship flowers to loved ones. The company uses data analytics for both customer intelligence and to optimize its own marketing choices.

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