Big Data: Good for Business, Useful for You

Editor's note: This article is by Michelle Zhou a senior manager at IBM Research - Almaden. Dr. Zhou will participate in a panel "Big Data in the Entertainment Industry" at the IBM Research Colloquia "Box Office to Front Office: Winning with Big Data" on August 10, 2012. Watch over livestream beginning at 10 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time.

My husband and I like to go to our local library and will occasionally borrow movies. But without a way to search beyond general categories in alphabetical lists, it's hard to find something we want to watch. With Netflix, on the other hand, we get recommendations based on our past rentals and movies we rated.

My team at IBM works in people analytics, which aims to gain a deep understanding of people including understanding their personality and needs. We then use such an understanding to create hyper-personalized engagements with individuals (such as making a movie recommendation based on personality). Right now we're looking at how to use big data generated on social media to analyze brand perception and the people who voice those perceptions. We want to help companies better serve their customers with what they want, when they want it.

Our work will also help companies better serve new customers who don't have enough behavioral data for the companies to analyze. Social media data can help companies find people with similar interests of those they already serve. In addition, social media helps companies learn about what their competitors' customers are like, and how they are served.

The Four Vs

IBM defines big data according to Volume (the scale of the data); Velocity (how fast is the data moving); Veracity (how accurate/truthful is the data); and Variety (forms of the data)
Today, not only are traditional data (books and sales transactions) captured, digitized and becoming more accessible, but new types of data (social media and mobile activity) are also being generated at an incredible pace.

IBM has helped its customers efficiently, effectively, and securely manage their data - even before the big data boom. Now, our analytics software and services can help them extract more value in all the data they own.

Big Data Insight Helps Business and You

Some would say this is just another effort to sell more to more people. But I think that the better we understand our customers, and people in general, the better we can serve them and help them.

Analytics is more than targeted advertising. It can be a public service.

For example, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a rumor spread through China that iodized salt would prevent radiation sickness. The false alarm caused a rush on salt at supermarkets across the country, leading to shortages and scalpers looking for quick profit. What if China's government could have detected and responded as quickly as the rumor spread?

Whether it's helping an individual find a product or service that he or she wants, when he or she wants it, or helping a government agency respond to a crisis, my team wants to find ways to use big data (Volume) in real time (Velocity), which may come in different forms (Variety), to give people the most-accurate (Veracity) and useful information as possible.

Watch "Winning with Big Data"

On August 10, I will join a panel with Todd Yellin, the vice president of Product Innovation at Netflix, and Ray Elias the CMO at StubHub, as part of "Box Office to Front Office: Winning with Big Data."

Add a reminder to your calendar, here, to watch it live, and join a chat with a member of my team, Jeff Nichols, on IBM's Smarter Planet Facebook page.