Life as we know it would be impossible without big data

Credit: Source: Dan4th/Flickr

Imagine your life today without big data. It’s not conceivable.

Try booking an international flight without big data. For a boarding pass to be generated, your itinerary must pass through a few massive databases—from ticketing to no-fly lists—before you get confirmation from whatever online booking system you use. You won’t make it to the departure gate without the help of big data.

Before you leave for the airport from chilly, drizzly London in November for a week of business meetings in Hong Kong, it’s wise to check one of the many online weather services. Sometimes it can be 10-15 degrees (Celsius) warmer than London in that part of China during the fall, so it’s best to know how to pack. It’s likely that whatever online booking service you used already supplied this information to you. Without those big data-rich online weather services you might bring an uncomfortable ensemble of clothes and spoil your trip, which would reflect poorly on the booking service.

Maybe you like to use your cell phone for international calls when you land in another geography. It’s only by applying advanced data management techniques to big data that wireless carriers are able to determine whether your device can use other networks in different regions. No big data would mean being dependent on public landlines while on your trip.

After you reach your destination, you may want to check-in to your hotel. When you hand over your credit card for the first time at this destination, behind the scenes across the globe big data analytics are being run against your profile to determine the chance that this transaction is fraudulent. Once your card is approved, the hotel chain may automatically update its customer loyalty database with your latest visit’s data.

During your journey it’s possible you learned something that could affect one of your personal stock investments. While in your hotel room you log in to your brokerage account, use its huge research database to help you refine your buy or sell decision, then act accordingly.

You could do all of these things before our current era of big data. Booking flights, checking weather in distant locations, making phone calls, using a credit card, even selling stock were all tasks that were possible. But they required you to interact with travel agents and brokers, to research international newspaper weather sections and chat with telephone operators to help you make long-distant calls. No one, except a proud Luddite, would want to return to such times.

Big data has simplified complexities in so many business processes we hardly notice any longer. It permits our rapidly emerging self-service economy. It’s not just our future. It’s our present.

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