Virtually every organization out there is keen to get the most out of the Big Data available to them, but far fewer are clear what exactly that entails. So as a company that’s been advising clients on data analytics for over three decades, at ORTEC Consulting we believe it’s crucial we have a vision when it comes to Big Data that will underpin our work with clients in this area. For us, that vision is about looking beyond the technology. To find new ways to help businesses transform their data into solutions that add real value to their core business.
Big Data. It’s a term on everybody’s lips, but what exactly is ‘Big’ Data? Basically, data that continues to amass in such vast quantities and/or complex forms that traditional, structured databases simply can’t process it effectively. Which in turn means its owners can’t utilize this potential goldmine of information lying at their fingertips.
`…for any organization generating Big Data it has become a priority to ensure they can effectively manage it..
So for any organization generating Big Data it has become a priority to ensure they can effectively manage it, store it, access it, harmonize it with other data sources, etc. And there are now plenty of companies — some of them trusted partners of ORTEC — who provide the technology to do that for you in the form of a so-called Big Data Portal.
`…how are you going to use your Big Data, now being managed so carefully on a platform, to actually add value to your business?`
Big Data Big insights
Such platforms are indispensable, but beg the question: how are you going to use your Big Data, now being managed so carefully on a platform, to actually add value to your business? A Big Data platform is a necessary part of a Big Data solution, but lacks a key part of the puzzle: framing the right questions to be answered.
Until the last few years, we’ve mainly been helping clients by identifying patterns in their processes or supply chain and finding ways to model or analyze their data so it optimizes their business operations. But with the advent of Big Data, increasingly we’re applying our know-how to the areas of predictive analysis and forecasting, as we feel this is where businesses will leverage the most added value from their Big Data. And that calls for a new approach, first to frame the interesting questions and secondly to leverage Big Data technology to answer those questions.
Cutting-edge and cost-effective
Because at ORTEC Consulting Group we want to focus on analyzing your data, we make use of the state-of-the-art infrastructure provided by established cloud-based Big Data platform providers. This has two main advantages. First, your data is always managed using the very latest technology and techniques, which in an industry evolving at breakneck speed is vital: yesterday people hadn’t heard of NoSQL or Hadoop; today they’re seen as essential to Big Data management; but by tomorrow they may well be obsolete. The second reason is that renting platform services is the most cost-effective and worry-free option for our clients.
The portal to success
As a cornerstone of our vision to ensure our clients get the most out of their Big Data, we’re currently developing a Big Data Portal. Essentially, the portal lets clients focus on the question ‘what can I do with my data?’ and stop worrying about any technical issues.
So how does it work? We first create an account for you on the Big Data Portal and then help you choose a ‘workflow’ from existing templates or define your own workflow. The workflow specifies the steps of the analysis in which you are interested (e.g. fraud detection or customer segmentation). Executing the workflow will first connect to your various data sources (operational database, unstructured data, data warehouse, external sources of data such as census data, etc). We then run multiple algorithms and analysis scripts to extract patterns from that data. And finally produce a user-friendly report that presents our insights based on the analyses and flags up any opportunities we see for your business.
To make the portal more cost-effective, we’ve developed various workflow templates that address certain types of standard requirements or issues that typically face companies in particular sectors. For example fraud detection for the Financial Services sector or finely-segmented shopper behavior patterns for companies with loyalty card schemes.
But clients can also create their own workflows or have our consultants create bespoke workflows for them to address a specific business challenge. For example, for an international parcel carrier we recently developed a revenue management analysis of their client contracts. So they could better align pricing to what companies are prepared to pay in different sectors and countries, replicating the kind of dynamic pricing used by airlines.
`…how many companies have really thought with a completely open mind about the possibilities Big Data might offer their business?`
Big Data Big picture
Big Data is a relatively new phenomenon and there’s not a CEO to be found who’d deny its importance. Yet how many companies have really thought with a completely open mind about the possibilities Big Data might offer their business? It was in response to what we see as this serious gap in the Big Data strategies of many companies that we have developed two ways to help businesses take a broader view: the Big Data Big Picture, if you like.
Instead of only developing solutions to problems you have already identified, our experts take your data sources and just… dig into them. Visualizing the data, coloring it, selecting all sorts of different filters and generally just exploring the data until interesting patterns start to emerge.
We then produce a highly interactive report in the form of a ‘dashboard’ that we place online for the customer to access. The report will highlight certain insights. For example how peaks in shopper activity in a certain region at certain times of day also correlates with peaks in the local weather. Using their deeper knowledge of their own business, the customer can then drill down to reveal insights in more granular detail. In this case, for example by age, income, types or value of goods, and so on.
With the possibilities almost as endless as the data itself, such an investigative study can often give you a competitive edge and might even throw up the next game-changer for your sector. Almost always such studies raise interesting new questions that warrant further, more focused investigation.
FREE Inspiration session
Whether they’re Big Data old hands looking for ways to leapfrog the competition or dipping a toe in the Big Data waters for the first time, one of our Inspiration Sessions can often trigger the Big Data step change a client has been looking for.
The concept is simple. Two ORTEC consultants visit your offices for a free session to discuss what Big Data sources you have and brainstorm with you how they might best be used to help your business. Perhaps in completely new ways that had never occurred to you (or your competitors) before.
Just two more examples of how our vision at ORTEC Consulting Group means Big Data is never the end in itself, but always remains a means to adding value to the business.
Steven van Dijk is Manager Technology & Innovation at ORTEC Consulting Group. Steven holds a PhD. in Computer Science from Utrecht University where he worked as a researcher on automatically constructing (learning) high-quality Bayesian networks from data with genetic algorithms. Since 2004 Steven works at ORTEC and ORTEC Consulting Group as Software Engineer and Software Architect.
Interview written by Tom Collingridge.