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9 Ways Big Data and Analytics are Changing the World (For the Better)

November 17, 2014

Big Data and analytics are changing the landscape of ... everything.

There's no doubt Big Data and analytics is an exploding practice today. 

[Download the free guide on today's top strategies in BI and analytics and make sure you're keeping up with the Joneses in 2016: Top BI & Analytics Trends for 2016]

Each year as of late, companies are devoting more of their time and budgets to harnessing and understanding the troves of data around them both inside and outside their organizations. But companies aren't the only ones benefiting from data analyses.


You can't open up a newspaper these days without noticing how analytics are changing the world. Here's nine ways we see the world becoming a better, more informed, more connected place because of Big Data.

1. Government Planning

Boston, Mass. Mayor Marty Walsh is currently using real-time data to measure everything from shootings, building permits, potholes, and education issues to drive his agenda for the city. Dashboards displayed in his office show him critical KPIs for the past 30 days so he's able to benchmark goals and set realistic expectations for future strategy. He also has an immediate glimpse into the problems that are most pressing for the city of almost 650,000 people.

"Walsh's goal is to change the culture at City Hall by infusing all levels of government with a data-driven approach … One Cabinet meeting a month will be dedicated to reviewing the data, and top officials will be required to submit reports to show progress toward each of Walsh's goals."

Read the full story, "Mayor Walsh hopes to drive agenda with data," from the Boston Globe.

2. Entertainment

Hollywood producers, studio executives, and major film financiers are increasingly turning to analytics to guide them in the creation of screenplays. Vinny Bruzzese, a former statistician and the "reigning mad scientist of Hollywood," is majorly cashing in on the available pool of existing data pulled from hundreds of years of movies to point out both minute and major details that could lead to a film's epic success or disappointing flop.

"For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. What do you like? What should be changed?"

Read the full story, "Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data," from the New York Times.

3. Sports

Analytics are playing increasingly prominent role in professional sports. Statistics have long been a part of the game for Major League Baseball in the U.S., and now are seen as a key to unlocking answers from stadiums to the hardwood around the world. The English Premier League has upped the ante with data trackers embedded in players' uniforms that monitor performance in real time. Coaches are using this information to predict everything from long term performance and likelihood of injury to how a player will perform in the next game.

"Today, 19 of the 20 Premier League teams use [analytics software]. Each has its own team of performance analysts and data scientists looking for the indicators that quantify player performance, the events that determine matches and trends that characterise seasons. They are scientists dissecting the world's most popular game, looking at data from Prozone and other sources to understand what dictates the difference between winning and losing. In the environment of the multimillion-pound Premier League, clubs don't just want a competitive advantage, they need it."

Read the full story, "The winning formula: data analytics has become the latest tool keeping football teams one step ahead," at Wired.co.uk.

4. Poverty

Non-profit organizations and governments are harnessing and analyzing Big Data from developing nations around the world to help develop and deliver public and social services to those who need it most. As data scientists find a new role in NGOs, there is a vast potential for providing better access to healthcare, education, financial services, and agriculture to the poor, while increasing transparency and reducing corruption.

"For example, digital payment histories can allow individuals to build credit histories so that they can access financial services such as consumer loans or access to other aid based programs. Similarly, access to large amounts of information from various sources can also help organizations identify and react better to health epidemics, natural disasters (earthquakes, cyclones, etc.) and agricultural related trends (drought, famine, etc)."

Read the story, "Fighting Poverty Using Big Data and Analytics," on the Harvard Business School blog.

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5. Disaster Recovery

Three years after the earthquake that left Christchurch, New Zealand largely in crumbles, the city is using real-time data to help with the recovery and rebuilding effort. The project will analyze real-time data from sensors, cameras, traffic systems, building management systems and utilities, water quality, and air quality data for urban planning. They also plan to analyze that data to measure how economic activity is rebounding.

"We see Christchurch as one of those globally unique situations. Two years on, there are still wide-scale demolitions across the city. It's a real opportunity to re-envisage how the city will operate … For example, an app could provide feedback on cyclists' movements, pinpoint safety hazards and where close shaves occurred, and show how they use cycle routes throughout the city. We're looking at how you can get really granular with the data."

Read the full story, "Data analytics to aid Sensing City project in rebuilding Christchurch," in the Australian.

6. Healthcare

Social enterprise BroadReach Healthcare has brought the practice of data analytics to some of Africa's most ailing (and data poor) healthcare systems. Their goal is to collect and analyze data, and make it easily available to administrators so they can identify which health interventions and clinics are most and least successful across 20 African countries. 

"Sargent sees its role as 'shining a light on the healthcare system' by 'delivering the right information to the right people at the right time' … Among the aspects of the health system that HCC illuminates are the geographic distribution of pharmacies, clinics and schools; access to piped water; staffing statistics; nurse training levels; child health metrics; TB and HIV treatment performance; the number of consulting rooms; and employment statistics."

Read the full story, "How BroadReach is using analytics to improve healthcare in Africa," at computing.co.uk.

7. Higher Education

Responding to the exploding demand for individuals with data acumen in business roles, many business schools are now offering analytics programs to cater to students' ambitions. Companies recognize the need of Big Data to tackle problems and future planning, prompting a burgeoning need for employees who are data specialists. To prepare themselves for these hot new positions, students are enrolling in programs where they can earn a Masters in Business Analytics.

"'We find it invaluable to have people who can synthesize data' and suggest changes based on those insights, said Melissa Lora, president of Yum Brands Inc. 's Taco Bell International, who serves on the school's corporate-advisory board."

Read the full story, "Big Data Gets Master Treatment at B-Schools," in the Wall Street Journal.

8. Energy

Both utility companies and the customers who pay for their services are benefitting from the explosion of available Big Data. Utility companies are harvesting and analyzing data to provide more information about energy consumption to customers, lowering costs, and general operations. From a customer perspective, this helps ratepayers make better decisions about their energy usage.

"Providing safe, reliable and affordable power is critical; and so is our commitment to keeping that data protected. The information available on our secure database makes it easier for PG&E planners to better forecast where and when power will be needed, and its impact on the electrical grid. Better long-term forecasting means our customers benefit from improved operational reliability and planning, and an increased ability to incorporate more cost effective resources."

See "How four U.S. utilities are tackling big data" in the full story on energybiz.com.

9. Politics

Politicians and political organizations are using Big Data to take a more personal approach with voters. Groups are analyzing everything from social media streams and other online activity to issues that affect particular neighborhoods to personal information such as magazine subscriptions, club memberships, and gun licenses. Knowing the issues and predilections of a target demographic helps politicians get right to the heart of matters with voters.

"Data analytics can help a political group understand why people cross party lines to vote for a particular candidate -- an ability that could be crucial for minority parties, like Maryland Republicans. Democrats who in recent years signed petitions on hot-button political questions like gay marriage and immigration could be targeted and encouraged to vote for Republican candidates aligned with their views on specific issues."

Read the full story of how politicians and political groups are using Big Data and Analytics to reach voters in better ways in "Politicians uncovering big benefits in 'big data'" in the Washington Times.


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