ABJ: What’s the big data? You’ll Find Out Soon

Author: Robert Grattan, Staff Writer - Austin Business Journal

Consider the task of a company trying to defend a broad intellectual property portfolio, knowing there were 1.98 million patents filed worldwide in 2011 alone.

It’s a big number that’s indicative of what’s become the latest hyper-talked-about concept in information technology — big data.

Big data refers to collections of information that are too large to manage and analyze with traditional software tools. The term is a bit abstract, and it’s often used with eye-glazers like petabyte and scalable elastic data stream. But while the complexities of big data might deter many from engaging it, big data is nevertheless undetered on its way to dramatically changing how data-driven organizations act and are acted on.

For companies like Austin-based Innography Software Inc., big data means opportunity.

Innography, for example, filters through 500 terabytes of information daily — court filings, judge’s opinions, product notes, stock market data, etc. — and uses its findings to advise others on how to leverage their intellectual property portfolios. Many companies have created internal data that can be made more valuable when properly meshed with other data sources, Innography President Tyron Stading said.

“If you can take 50 external data sources and combine them with one or two internal sources, it’s a multiplicative deal,” Stading said.

Innogrpahy charges $40,000 to more than $1 million for its services. And the company is looking for new ways to use its databases.

“Big data is a buzzword,” Stading said. “The real question is: How does this impact my business? How does big data impact non-IT users?”

A study by McKinsey Global Institute projected that big data could be worth $300 billion to U.S. health care and increase operating margins for retailers by 60 percent.

At Austin-based Spredfast Inc., integrating data means pulling together all of a brand’s social networking. That’s no small task, considering Spredfast customers Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. (Nasdaq: WFM) maintain hundreds of social sites in different countries and are mentioned thousands of times a day in different languages. Facebook has estimated that its users share 2.5 billion items of content per day.

“We bring back everything you can get from the social network,” Spedfast CEO Rod Favaron said. “We take all that, and we put it together.”

That data gets analyzed and turned into unified marketing strategies and advice, he said.

And as companies try to manage brands more actively and in more places, Spredfast has seen revenue grow by about 400 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Shane Pratt, marketing and sales director at Austin-based data company Pervasive Software Inc. (Nasdaq: PVSW), said ideas for using big data are only scratching the surface.

“We’re moving toward team data,” he said, referring to systems of data working together. “People are in the stage of trying to figure this out.”

Pratt described, as an example, the possibility to create a smart power grid in which homes along the system are wired with sensors to monitor not merely total power usage, but also how much power goes to individual appliances and machines.

If a washer’s or dryer’s usage drops, the retailer could contact the owner with a repairman or a deal on a new one, he said.

The most ambitious uses may still be far off, Pratt said. For example, examining all historical data of utility usage on a system might not be possible now.

“There’s a lot of hype around” big data, he said, “but not many people can put it in practice.”

The goal is to make big data less of a buzzword and more of a tool.

“We can all be smarter if we can use our information,” Stading said.

View the full article from the ABJ