Big data, what is it for?
Big Data. We’re seeing it everywhere. But what do the words mean? What is Big Data actually used for? How is it beneficial? And above all, why do businesses – industrial companies especially – see big data and the mass processing of Big Data as an essential growth lever? We take a closer look.
Big Data, or the information megahighway
The term is cropping up more and more often and it’s not always easy to grasp what it means. But there’s a wealth of information behind the two small words. Big Data refers to an enormous amount of data – literally megadata – from the point of view of its volume, variety and velocity, as well as value, veracity and variability. Using high-tech tools, Big Data can be used to analyze behaviors, businesses, markets; anything in the world around us.
The term was coined in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s and the rise of the GAFAM giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) that Big Data began revealing its full potential.
Think about it: 29,000 gigabytes of data are generated every second! In 2020 alone, an incredible 64 zettabytes of data were produced. One zettabyte is equivalent to one billion terabyte, or one trillion gigabytes of emails sent and received, videos watched, applications downloaded, searches run, tweets posted, music played, etc.
These are dizzying figures and human ability alone cannot process them. That’s where Big Data, including storage and analytical technologies developed in parallel to collect, process, analyze that data, comes into its own.
Here’s an example. When you go onto the website of the e-commerce giant Amazon, data on all your product views and purchases are recorded and used to draw up your consumer profile, ensuring that you see future product offers matching your needs. They might even spark cravings for things you never even knew existed! Netflix uses Big Data to analyze the habits of its 204 million viewers and predict the shows they might like, with a view to retaining their interest – and subscription fees.
Data: a world of opportunities
Big Data provides information with such power that it can improve industrial processes, anticipate user behavior, reduce energy costs, optimize recruitment, transform businesses, and much more besides. Data creates value! And the information it generates has enormous potential.
At Saint-Gobain, we have implemented a data-based strategy and used predictive marketing and artificial intelligence to improve how we understand and attract customers, anticipate their behavior and build their loyalty. This is especially applicable to the French retail chain La Plateforme du Bâtiment and the Canadian acoustic solutions brand Decoustics. We have been able to present them with offers in line with their expectations to create new growth opportunities. During the lockdown period, for instance, customer behavior changed abruptly. We could no longer be in contact with our customers face to face. How could we reach them? Using data and creating a specific algorithm to understand their needs at that precise moment, we were able to seek out the most sensitive customers, those looking for contacts – without actually requesting them – and send them the right communication messages. This algorithm helped us to multiply the message conversion rate by 10.
Within companies, Big Data also facilitates strategic decision making. It is even transforming certain professions by automating the processing of important data. This can allow employees such as management controllers to focus their efforts on tasks with high added value requiring analysis that only humans can perform.
At Saint-Gobain, a group which is always generating an infinite amount of data, one of its Big Data projects is called “Nazaré”. Through this project, we are able to collect all the Group’s data into one accessible data storage area known as a Data Lake. Each country, business or central function can – while adhering to personal data protection regulations – now use all of the company’s data This pooling of information has improved market insight, anticipated fluctuations, and better identified and mitigated risk.
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Big Data and the climate challenge
Beyond the new horizons offered by this technological innovation, new challenges are emerging.
Climate change is a crucial concern, and energy-hungry data storage centers are becoming problematic. However, data collection can be used to raise environmental awareness and encourage the development of more sustainable industrial practices. At Saint-Gobain, the Sekurit sites have been deploying an algorithm since 2020. The algorithm was tested for three years at the Shanghai (China) plant, which controls the glass forming process for vehicle side windows by analyzing millions of data collected on the production line. Using Big Data in this way facilitates both quality control and product availability for customers, but above all makes it possible to optimize how resources are used on production sites.
Finally, at Group level, data governance to assess the CO2 impact of home construction materials (with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050) is another example of how data is used to benefit the energy transition.
Spreading the data culture
In addition, while the use of data is shaking up the way companies operate and raising ethical questions, data governance services are emerging, along with new professions based on those needs (Chief Data Officer, Data Scientist, etc.). Their aim is to ensure quality control and data security within an organization.
And to support this digital revolution within the Group, Saint-Gobain created the Data and Analytics (DnA) Academy in 2019. On the agenda: hands-on training sessions for all employees to improve how they understand data through experimentation and help them use data as a performance lever more effectively. DnA Academy is so successful that it is now being rolled out throughout the Group.
Honing our understanding of customer behavior, creating new services, improving industrial processes, developing new professions and tackling the underlying ethical issues: Big Data presents a world of new opportunities for a company that knows how to channel and use it. There is much potential for innovation and there are plenty of challenges to be met if we are to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable economy.
Photos credits: metamorworks/Shutterstock // Alexander Supertramp / Shutterstock