A big data reality check

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being the chair for the Fujitsu North America Technology Forum 2012. The focus of the event was extremely topical as it was “From Sensor Networks to Human Networks: Turning Big Data into Actionable Wisdom”. Alongside the excellent presentations there were also specific topic breakout sessions as well as a technology hall with 20 new opportunities showcased as well as innovative solutions from Fujitsu’s research and development programmes working on “leveraging ‘big data’ to transform business, society and our daily lives”. That’s certainly a big vision statement!

The event attracted around 400 attendees which managed to combine a significant scale with a nice feeling of intimacy.  What struck me most about the day was the high level of interest and the wide range of perspectives represented and explored.  Oh and yes I also learned the value of your main keynote speaker being someone as experienced and relaxed as Gordon Bell - when the microphone failed just as he got into his stride; it was great to see a professional handle that blip without a flick of concern or missing a beat!

This is not the first time we’ve mentioned the big data topic on this blog (and you can read more on our Technology Perspectives site) but the over-riding message I took from my many discussions during the event was that people seem fairly comfortable with the concept but are very much focused on how to extract “actionable wisdom”.  In the context the presentation from Michael Chui of McKinsey Global Institute is definitely worth some reading time as a great summary of where value might be drawn across the industry spectrum.  There is also more detail in a research paper he published in 2011 entitled “Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity”.

I was also extremely interested in one of the breakout sessions focusing on the healthcare sector when Fujitsu Laboratories of America (FLA) spoke of partnering with a technology subsidiary of a healthcare provider, Springfield Clinic.  This joint development around remote patient monitoring and reporting caught my attention and I was able to discuss in more detail outside of the session with Jim Hewitt, CEO Jardogs and CIO Springfield Clinic.  I was excited to hear about some technology I’d seen during its earlier research incarnation, a remote sensing platform, had been integrated with Jardogs’ FollowMyHealth Universal Health Record (UHR).  The combination creates an anytime, anywhere collection and transmits selected health data types to be immediately usable by the patients UHR.  There is definitely a buzz to be had from seeing something you saw at a very early conceptual stage becoming real and moving to pilot deployment.

Finally what gave me most food for thought was the keynote presentation by Gordon Bell and his MyLifeBits initiative; the digital storage of every aspect of a life.  I am still mulling over the questions his material raised for me and deciding what conclusions I reach.  It certainly made a term like “digital universe” have wider connotations and more personal resonance for me than it did before he started speaking.

If you’d like to learn more, follow these links to: more images; copies of the presentation materials; and details of this and previous FLA events.

Interactions between the physical and digital worlds

Working for an Information Technology company presents me with a view of life that the digital economy is a must and an integral part of today’s society yet, where that may be true in some parts of the world and within certain demographics, it’s not a statement that everyone would recognise.

But technology is increasing its impact our world every day and lots of very inventive people are finding ways that the digital world can support the physical world, even in very poor and under-developed regions.

The trend for me in this blog post is not the consumerisation of IT as an IT professional may see it, but at what point is something compelling for a consumer, who has very little in the physical world compelled to join the digital world because it makes a significant difference to their daily life?

An excellent example is the Reuters Mobile Light service provided to Indian farmers since 2007 to provide commodity prices, crop and weather data via SMS. Often a community shares a handset but individuals have their own SIM. The service has grown as one subscriber often shares the information with their community to decide where is the best place to send their produce to get the best price and now even use mobile phones to control irrigation.

In more developed parts of the world what we want can be very different, but still critical to our day to day needs with the ability to respond to a need being very fast indeed, such as using a cell phone to measure exposure to radiation in response to specific events such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Mobile technology is not just useful to respond to disasters, for example going for a health check at a labyrinth of a hospital and wondering how long one is going to have to wait, lead to the creation of a patient guidance system that should take some of the stress out of the visit – and there are many other examples of mobile applications allowing us to take care of ourselves and improve our physical well-being.

This tells us that the digital world can be a significant force for good in the physical world, the needs of the developing world are very different from the developed world and, using ITU numbers, it seems that a third of the developed world is still not connected (two thirds in the developing world).

So, we can all “do our bit” by taking the 2G mobile handsets that we last used about five years ago and are collecting dust in a drawer, digging them out and sending them to our favourite charities, who may use them to help people in other parts of the world (for example, the Indian farmers) and allow greater participation in the digital society.