How Big Data is Shaping Our Future


It is not easy to find a conference or seminar, in any field, where there isn´t at least one chapter devoted to big data. We talked to Luís Bettencourt Moniz, responsible for marketing at SAS Portugal, to better understand what big data is, how you can take advantage of all the information that is accessible to anyone of us, and what effects it has already in our lives - and, equally important, in our business.

Every two years, we humans "duplicate the information we generate," that is, there is a huge amount of information being produced in different formats and supports. The big question is how we remove some meaning from all this information. And why is this important? Because if we can "review this information, it will help us making decisions": where to hold our next event, whom to invite, where our potential sponsors are, what topics we will discuss, and so on...

The Four Vs

To better understand the concept of big data, the four Vs may help.
Velocity, essential in the analysis of all available information; Variety, as information comes to us in different types, structured and unstructured, from books, blogs, videos, posts, etc.; Volume, as it continues to grow exponentially, for better or for worse; and finally Veracity, or if we prefer, data quality, since not all sources are reliable.

Macro and Micro Challenges

"There are two challenges, the first at a macro level, in terms of strategy," explains Luís Bettencourt Moniz. It is to notice, in certain areas, which are "those who are more likely to minimize any risk" and increase the attractiveness index. We can, for instance, analyse the evolution of the number of participants at conferences, cross it with the places where each of them was held, and spot trends; what areas of expertise arouse more attention, in what countries or cities is there a larger number of participants? "This allows us to build models to anticipate future scenarios."

The micro aspect has to do with each congress and its participants. Who are they, where do they come from, are they likely to return, what sessions did they attend, who did they hear? Is the content I'm making available suitable for my audience? What is my target audience speaking about at this time on social media? "And this is something we can integrate into the event itself. Ultimately, we could have an individualised program. If you have a varied offer, you can match different interests and needs," secures SAS Marketing responsible.

Lack of Analytical Skills

"The biggest gap is in people," assures Luís Bettencourt Moniz. "We lack people with analytical skills. And students coming out of universities prepared to do so are lacking. That's why one of the  most in demand jobs in the near future is data scientist, or data analyst."
Thus, according to this expert, the most important for an organisation is to have someone who is curious about information, and able to question; having an open mind and asking why this is happening. "We will always find new things, but for that we must keep an open mind, question, formulate hypotheses and validate them."
Audition social media, following a handful of hashtags, themes, keywords... these alone are crucial first steps. "If after that we need to build models, things become more complex," and by then it is necessary to find someone more qualified.

Better Decisions

Luís Bettencourt Moniz argues that decisions should be more and more based on facts and not merely on emotion. "We should not be machines," but if facts show us a true picture of reality "we can decide better."
He recalls, on this topic, a relatively recent experience when he participated in the Portugal Tourism Challenges, organised by Fórum Turismo 2.1. "All parties, all participants are sensitive to these issues. Just think of a hotel chain. If they do not know what their customers think - including potential guests - if they do not listen to them, if they do not know what customers are saying about them on social media, they are not doing their job."
So, the first step is to question things, realise what is happening and why. Look at the market, see, observe, "this is to have an analytical attitude." And of course, distinguish what is relevant to our decision making.
In conclusion, Luís Bettencourt Moniz leaves two key ideas. On the one hand, that virtually all the information you need, outside your organisation, is public and available. On the other, remember that information is precisely what allows you, in the market, to be different.

About SAS

Essentially, this US origin company extracts information from large volumes of data. Then it transforms this information into knowledge in order to support the decision of managers, in areas ranging from marketing to risk management and fraud.
SAS was founded in 1976 at the University of North Carolina, as a project to analyse data collected in agricultural research. Currently, it employs more than 13,000 people worldwide and has customers spread across 140 countries.