Information is power. This has long been known and this desire to know what is happening in the world around has long been a driver for communication. The advent of modern technologies has made it easier than ever before to gather, analyse, disseminate and understand information: everything from people’s movements, to fashion trends, everything right down to the most seemingly irrelevant pieces of data: the movements within certain buildings and how those movements change between, for example, a Monday and a Thursday.
Loyalty cards are a generous offering, according to customers, giving discounts and deals just for showing a card that is given to them for free: and yet those deals are paid for many times over with the data gathered: one instance of shopping is a single event and only a limited about of data can be gathered on these single instances.
A year’s work of shopping for one household is a very different data set. It shows how purchasing choices change according to the weather, the season, in response to serious events, political upheaval, and even one’s relationship state: and all this information is gathered with an absolute minimum of effort, and with relatively low risk to the customer: after all, it is the loyalty that connects the user rather than any of the personal details that should be protected – driver’s licences, passports and so on.
GPS and navigation apps also gather information, tracking footfall and seeing changes in real time as the population responds to new businesses opening, road closures, special events and so much more. This enables road planners and city builders to improve traffic flows, lets business know if an area is a good proposition for the new business or not, and helps to circulate people around the urban areas rather than allowing bottle-necks to build up and other areas to be abandoned.
These are just two of many sources of information, all flowing into a massive databases, all able to sort to examine cause and effects and find solutions to problems: this is the information unlocking the almost unimaginable power of big data.