Making big data work for you: a roundtable discussion

In recent years, big data has become one of the hottest buzzwords in industry. It has grown into one of the trends big companies and start-ups alike constantly mention — and it’s usually the answer when people ask what the ‘next big thing’ in technology will be.

But what does it really mean? Here, we ask the experts about their own definitions of big data, the value of this information and its potential to change the way we live, work and manage customer service.

Big data: an overview

There are many conflicting opinions on the true definition of big data, and even more controversy surrounding its potential value for businesses. However, big data isn’t just another new tech hype. While the phrase ‘big data’ itself is relatively new, the process of gathering and storing large amounts of information has existed for decades.

Gathering and storing data is by no means a new phenomenon. The only thing that’s changing is what organisations choose to do with that information and — perhaps more importantly — the massive increase in the amount of data we’re producing.

Thanks to an increased level of connectivity in our homes, workplaces and leisure spaces, we’re producing more data than is fathomable. But, considering the amount of data we’re now generating, how can businesses possibly make sense of this overabundance of information and separate the wheat from the chaff?

According to the dictionary

Big Data, (noun,)


extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.
“much IT investment is going towards managing and maintaining big data”

Claire Williams, Orion Media: “Big data is extremely valuable”

Claire is the group HR manager at Orion Media, which is part of the larger Bauer Media group that reaches over 25 million people through radio, digital, television and magazine channels.

Data gathered from everything we touch is extremely valuable in our working lives and can very much enhance our efficiency. How companies communicate, how they market their products, as well as where and when they advertise to new and current customers is already influenced by the results of big data monitoring.

For example, you can monitor a single person’s interactions on social media and you can monitor the reaction of Twitter followers to a marketing strategy, thus assessing how influential it has been. A company’s ecommerce website can see the point at which they ‘lost’ a customer, informing more educated follow up procedures. It also allows our sales processes to be more individual and fluid, rather than relying on the one size fits all approach.

Bob Muglia, Snowflake: “An enormous wealth of insight”

Bob is the chief-executive officer (CEO) of Snowflake, a Silicon Valley start-up that has recently expanded into the UK market. Snowflake is also the first data warehouse purpose-built for the cloud.

Big data usually describes machine-generated data – vast amounts of raw figures captured for the purpose of analysis. Big data drives business insights, leads to novel business solutions, and provides valuable insights on the most important party — the customer. As such, big data can represent an important revenue stream.

With the boom in cloud, social media, handheld devices and IoT technologies pushing even higher volumes of data, the beauty of big data is its ability to adapt and evolve to cope with this increased demand. New technologies, such as machine learning, have already grown in response, working hand-in-hand with big data to easily enable organisations to sift through data, eliminating human error along the way.

Looking forward, we will soon move from the traditional approach of using data as classified business information between internal departments, to sharing select datasets between different organisations, securely and in real-time. This enormous wealth of insight will not only open the doors for collaborative business solutions, but drive the innovations of tomorrow.

Graeme Gordon, IFB and ScotlandIS: “Data can be used to influence feelings, choices and actions”

As the chief executive of data centre provider, IFB, Graeme is an expert in digital technologies. He is also the chairman of ScotlandIS, the trade association championing Scotland’s digital technologies industry.

Big data is made up of lots of little pieces of data — generated, created, snapped and chatted, consumed, downloaded and uploaded, repurposed, broadcast, streamed, published, posted, shared and stored. Ultimately, if it is to be worth something, the data needs to used or commercialised by someone or something.

Picture this — a service provider that links to your Google Docs environment, Amazon, Tesla, Nest and Deliveroo accounts. Using big data, it can tell it has been a slow, frustrating drive home and that there’s very little in your smart fridge. It also knows your partner is running late, one of the children isn’t feeling great and it’s an unusually cold Tuesday for June.

Taking all of this personal information into play, the service provider suggests that you might want a takeaway. By the time you get home, it will be there. The heating and hot water will automatically turn on and the garage doors will unlock just as you get there. Oh, and the licensed Deliveroo driver has also picked up a cold remedy.

Most of us are driven by convenience and, as this generation ages, it continues to seek more conveniences in life. Living a smart and connected life, your data can be used to influence your feelings, choices and actions.”

Johannes Petrowisch, COPA-DATA: “Big data is the crude oil of the new millennium”

As global partner and business development manager at industrial software expert, COPA-DATA, Johannes understands the potential of big data for the engineering and industrial technology sector.

In 2013, Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) speaker and bestselling author, Dan Ariely, referred to the widely used term, big data as the “crude oil” of the new millennium — hugely valuable but useless if unrefined. In the midst of the current fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it’s more commonly referred to, information is power.

The more data you collate and analyse today, the stronger and more accurate your predictions will be tomorrow. Whether your reasons are quality management, predictive maintenance or simply staying ahead of the curve in innovation, there is a strong belief that the more data points archived, the better.

NB: This roundtable discussion is an extract from our book, The Conversation Engine. To read the full book, download a free copy here: