Ireland is facing a data tsunami

20 Jun 2008

CURRENTLY the amount of data worldwide is doubling every 11 months – by 2010 it will double every 11 hours.

Ireland stands in the direct path of this tidal wave of data, warns a senior executive with business intelligence (BI) giant SAS.

Dr John Brocklebank, director of analytic solutions at privately held software giant SAS Institute, believes Irish firms are ill-equipped to deal with this rapid growth in the world’s data.

He says the challenge for Irish companies is to capture and exploit the 1-2pc of data that is relevant to their decision-making processes and strategic objectives.

“We know that, on average, managers spend two hours a day looking for data and that more than half of this is useless to their decision-making process,” Brocklebank explains.

“Most frightening is that 42pc of managers say they accidentally use the wrong information to make a decision at least once a week. So never mind trying to deal with the data in its entirety; it needs to be made meaningful and accurate to support business decisions.

“From a global perspective, only companies that manage and exploit their data to its fullest will be able to use it as intelligence to make meaningful decisions. Irish companies are now facing a stark choice – either build competitive advantage around sophisticated analytics tools or get ready to drown in a tidal wave of data.”

Brocklebank says analytics used to mean backward-looking reporting but now it’s all about looking forward with predictive analysis. He gives the example of oil giant BP which uses SAS predictive analysis tools to perform predictive maintenance on oil rigs to ensure sufficient supply of parts. As a result, it saves up to €10m a year in costs.

Michael Kearney, managing director of SAS Ireland, explains that a retail chain in South Africa is using predictive analysis to predict robberies and take action to reduce costs.

In terms of cutting through vast amounts of hereditary data and ensuring fast analytics, Brocklebank says creating a representative structure of the data and then creating the tools to present that data is vital.

“We have customers with 10 years of transactional histories and that can be more than 10 terabytes of data – there’s no way you can process the data of 70 million customers.

“What we’ve done is transformed that data into a representative structure that’s got all the relevance of what they’ve done over a period of time – 6 months, 12 months, recent information that’s useful.

“If you think of all the unstructured data on the web, for example, with data mining methodologies what you’re going to do is roll all of that contextual data into one record.”

Brocklebank says analytic technology is now a key driver of corporate performance for some of the world’s leading companies, including Amazon, Capital One, UPS and Tesco.

“It can be no coincidence that Tesco, one of the first companies to really embrace this predictive analytics technology, has grown from being the second-largest retailer in the UK to the fourth-largest retailer in the world – all in a period of time when its clubcard became its No 1 selling tool.

“Some nine million individual Tesco coupons tailored to each individual customer’s spending patterns and predicting potential purchasing trends are issued by Tesco every quarter,” Brocklebank says.

“Across the entire spectrum of the Irish economy, from retail to banking, manufacturing to entertainment and healthcare to education, organisations can deploy predictive analytics to position themselves more effectively to compete in today’s fast-paced global economy, which demands greater agility and smarter, quicker decision-making,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years