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HP Software's community for IT leaders // May 2013

Big data, small devices: Analytics in a mobile future

Wikibon’s big data expert looks at how enterprises can capitalize on two powerful trends.

Mobile devices both create big data and provide new tools for delivering big data insights. Wikibon researcher Jeff Kelly recently blogged about this complex duality and the privacy, governance, and security concerns that arise with greater flow of data from and to mobile devices.

Jeff Kelly
Most organizations have only begun to grapple with big data analytics, whether it’s understanding the big data aspects of sensor data, the “Internet of Things,” or such mobile-reliant big data efforts as the iPad-based program in Guess retail stores. We asked Kelly to talk more about the implications of the big data/mobility convergence. The intersection of mobility and advanced analytics has implications for making the virtual organization even more dispersed and flexible, he says, but it also puts pressure on leaders to set the tone for a transition to being a truly data-driven enterprise.

Q: What are the implications for using mobile devices to deliver big data analysis in the enterprise?

Jeff Kelly: The use cases on the consumption side depend a lot on the role of the person consuming the data and the analytics. A senior-level executive is going to want high-level metrics about the business. But in the case of a front-line worker—someone who is doing maintenance on a pipeline network, let’s say—they don’t need access to a suite of analytics capabilities. What they need is a more alert-based application where big data is working under the covers to identify issues that need attention. Ideally you can get some kind of predictive analysis going, where you find likely problems based on patterns and do preventive maintenance.

Q: Interactivity is so important to big data analytics. Are mobile devices capable of sustaining interactive data exploration?

JK: In the context of mobile devices, I think it’s getting better, but it’s not great. I think in most cases, if you want to do iterative exploring of the data, most people are going to still do that on a laptop or a desktop. I think mobile’s strength right now is with more alert-based or action-based recommendations. Certainly I expect we will get to the point where mobile devices will become fully functional compared to desktop data analytics applications. But it’s still difficult to interact with data on a mobile device.

Q: And that’s because of bandwidth?

JK: Bandwidth can be an issue, but the real problem is related to design. We haven’t quite pinned down the best way to wade into big data on a mobile form factor yet. We’ve had a lot more time to develop analytics applications on desktops than we have on mobile. I might do a little bit of data exploring on my iPad, but if I want to do something really detailed, I go to my laptop. And I think that’s the case for most people at this point. As mobile devices get more powerful, it will become less of an issue.

Q: Will that be a game changer for business?

JK: The game changer is the underlying big data insights. If you can translate that to a mobile experience, where you can come up with greater insights on your mobile device, it’s not a game changer, but potentially it will push the trend of the virtual organization even further.

Q: Will consumers be less sensitive to privacy issues in the future, or is it going to be a big blocker for mobile data use?

JK:  Slowly but surely, mobile users are starting to understand the implications of using mobile applications, and it will come to a head soon. My recommendation to the industry is: get out ahead of it now. When we get to the point where lawmakers are debating legislation about an issue like this, typically public sentiment is not on your side, and legislators are not the right people to be making rules and regulations about the use of technology.

The industry needs to start educating consumers about what’s going on with their data, and help them to understand that mobile data analytics provides a benefit for the consumer. It means getting an offer in front of you that you actually want, instead of wasting your time with mass email offers. And then in the realm of social services—things like health care and education—there are privacy issues, for sure, but also a huge opportunity to improve patient care and the way we educate kids. So it’s important to start talking about it and be more transparent about the uses of mobile data, and let consumers know: yes, there are risks, but there are also benefits.

Q: What else can businesses do to smooth the transition to better use of big data on mobile devices?

JK: The hardest thing, actually, is not a technology problem: it’s a people/cultural problem. People are resistant to change, and that’s especially true if you have an application or a piece of technology telling you how to do your job better.

The idea to become a data-driven organization has to start at the top. It has to be known throughout the enterprise that this is a top priority. We’re going to listen to what the data tells us. If you want people to become invested in the analytics and change the way they do their decision making, you need to make that clear up front.

Jeff Kelly is a principal research contributor and leading big data expert for Wikibon, an open-source IT and business advisory community. For more on solutions to the challenges of big data analytics, visit


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