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Mike Walsh

June 21, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Big Data Is About Making Better Decisions

Mike Walsh, a futurist and authority on digital trends in emerging markets, takes a look a “Big Data,” and learning how to use it to make better decisions in business:

The real issue with Big Data today is not defining what it is, but knowing how to get value from it. Here’s my take. Big Data is not about big technology, it’s about making better decisions.

Take airports. If you are like me, and airports are your second home…you start noticing all kinds of crazy stuff. Emotional farewells, stressed businessmen running for tight connections, and the infinite varieties of what passes for carry-on luggage.

However, if you are an airline, there is one thing you pay very close attention to…when your planes arrive and how fast you can turn them around for another flight. That little number is the secret behind why some airlines survive and others get permanently grounded.

It’s also a Big Data problem.

From gate conflicts, weather patterns, operational challenges to air traffic management, the dynamics of a flight can change quickly and lead to costly delays. Knowing how to manage around these variables can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

Alaska Airlines had lots of data to work with, but very little of it was actionable. They knew that if they could give their pilots a real time prediction of their estimated arrival time, the pilots could make adjustments en route to optimize turnaround. Working with GE and Kaggle (an open platform for innovation contests), they released their flight data as a crowdsourced challenge. What happened next was astounding. They got over 3000 responses from data scientists around the world. The winning algorithm predicted arrival times 40% better than the current industry average – which was only accurate to within 7 minutes. And more importantly, they gained a powerful new weapon in the war for improving real-time results.

Here’s the key takeaway. The best use of Big Data in your business is the one that gives you more clarity on the levers that drive your performance and profitability. If you don’t want Big Data to mean even bigger IT budgets, keep it focused on using it to help you make better decisions.

By Mike Walsh