The World Economic Forum launched the 2014 Global Information Technology Report (GITR) today, and the annual assessment provides insight into two questions: where will see the next evolution of the Internet take hold, and how can we as a society improve on Big Data?
The report includes the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), assessing 148 countries across 54 different indicators. Finland, Singapore and Sweden again top the NRI rankings, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, with the United States rising two spots to 7th. Hong Kong, the UK and Korea round out the top 10. Because the NRI comprehensively measures the level of information and communications technologies (ICTs) development in countries, it provides an early indication of where the next evolution of the Internet will first take hold: the Internet of Everything.
The Internet of Everything is the value from connecting devices, data, processes and people, underpinned by the ubiquity of Big Data applications. Countries leading in the NRI have the infrastructure and policy environment to facilitate the growth of the Internet of Everything. And the NRI also points to specific actions that countries need to take to improve their ICT infrastructure and business environment. While Big Data is creating tangible benefits for governments, businesses and citizens, there is more we can do to make our insights even better by improving networks to facilitate the flow of data while addressing critical technology and policy challenges.
Big Data applications are all around us, improving the way we work, live, learn and play. In Spain, for example, the municipal government of Barcelona is using data from connected devices and sensors to increase productivity and create jobs, improving the quality of life for all Barcelonés. Devices that remotely monitor water pressure and pipe leakage are saving $58 million per year; Internet Protocol (IP)-controlled street lights are reducing annual maintenance costs by one-third; revenue from remotely monitored parking is increasing revenue by $50 million and the data-driven economy has created 47,000 jobs over the last seven years, not withstanding the economic crisis. In the private sector, businesses that apply Big Data analytics have experienced 26% improvement in business performance, and harvesting Big Data for decision-making can increase global corporate profits by 21%.
The ubiquity of Big Data applications is fueled by the fact that IP networks are connecting billions of physical devices, and this accelerating volume of data is driven by four major trends:
1. IP is fast becoming the common language for most data communication, particularly for proprietary industrial networks.
2. Previously unconnected places, people, things and processes are connecting to networks bringing billions of people and devices online over the next five years.
3. Existing physically stored information is being digitized in order to record and share previously analog material, and the digital share of the world's stored information has increased from 25% to over 98% over the past decade.
4. The introduction of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) now removes the technical limit on the number of devices that can connect to the Internet, theoretically allowing for trillions of trillions.
Improving the ability of IP networks to transmit data for processing as well as enabling networks to create, analyze and act on data insights can accelerate the positive impact from Big Data. Building this capability will require improving network infrastructure, enhancing analytical capabilities and "intelligence" in the network with distributed computing.
There are however, several critical challenges that need to be addressed because these technical and policy issues can either accelerate, or impede, the positive impact of big data analysis as part of the Internet of Everything.
For example, robust industry standards are needed for interoperability and economies of scale. While there are different requirements for critical networks, such as utilities that are closed, and networks connected to the open Internet (for example, those that monitor parking space availability), common standards will allow information to be exchanged within, and among, these networks as needed and appropriate.
Similarly, policymakers must also identify the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy of individuals' data and allowing for innovation in service delivery and product development. And robust security is needed to reliably prevent hacking and access by unauthorized and unwanted users. In order to ensure a healthy ecosystem where users, consumers, and businesses feel safe in engaging in Big Data activities, network security is essential.
Careful radio spectrum planning is needed to enable wireless machine-to-machine (M2M), as well as people-to-people (P2P) and people-to-machine (P2M), connectivity. Spectrum requirements are going to be heterogeneous and will include narrowband and broadband; short haul and long haul; continuous data transmission and short bursts of data; and licensed spectrum as well as license-exempt spectrum.
These and other technical and policy issues require careful consideration and are discussed further in the 2014 Global Information Technology Report: The Risks and Rewards of Big Data. How the global community tackles these challenges will go far in determining Big Data's impact on countries, businesses and individuals.