Thursday 23rd April marked the return of Big Data Week Belfast’s 2015 conference. It was an opportunity for data experts and technologists to meet, discuss and explore all things analytics. The stellar line-up including HP, Amazon Web Services and Skyscanner to name a few ensured the day was filled with thought-provoking sessions and insights into the future of the analytics landscape.

“Data are becoming the new raw material of business” – Craig Mundie Head of Research and Strategy at Microsoft.

Keynote – David Kemp – Strategic Systems Architect at HP

David began by setting the scene with the infographic below – our current digital universe has gone beyond the decimal system! And with the growth of the “Internet of Things” it will not be long before data is measured in geopbytes. The big data acceleration that we are currently seeing is being driven by technology advancements, making this vast amount of data much more accessible in terms of both storage and manipulation.


He went on to speak about legacy and dark data and the risks of ignoring these. David defined legacy data as being redundant, obsolete or trivial data residing in legacy applications and repositories. Whilst dark data goes beyond legacy data, it tends to be human-readable, unstructured, unindexed, unmanaged, inactive, orphaned data which resides in file and email servers and repos like SharePoint. Legacy and dark data sitting outside the information governance strategy exposes organisations to risk:

  • Spiralling costs: DEFENSIBILITY
  • Security breaches and reputational damage: SECURITY
  • Poor business execution and performance: OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY
  • Inability to exploit information for advancing the business and increasing revenue: REVENUE

Our competitive advantage as big data and analytics specialists comes from how quickly we are able to extract useful information from data.
David outlined the “Siloed data challenge”

  • Minimal data in the average organisation is tagged and analysed
  • Information silos are everywhere
  • Tools for finding and understanding information, tied to origin and format
  • Queries take too long and are too rigid, difficult to uncover opportunities, patterns or unexpected threats


To “cash in” on your data assets you need a big data platform for:

  • Ad hoc discovery – find what’s in the data without pre-structuring
  • Ubiquitous but secure data access
  • Real time data collection and analysis, any format, any data source
  • An extensible platform to harness 100% of your data, on premise, in the cloud


David detailed a number of interesting use cases for a big data platform:

  • Smart/Safe City – Improving public safety by detecting high-risk activities and investigating threats
  • Catch Insider Traders – Financial Services information surveillance and digital forensics solution
  • Smart retail – Prevent churn, analyse surveys, react to product/warranty issues


Ewan Nicolson – Senior Data Analyst at Skyscanner

Ewan gave a particularly interesting and engaging talk on how companies should use their data to accelerate growth. He was a strong proponent of using scientific methods and indeed behaving like a scientist to gain information and understanding, citing the scientific method as the most powerful tool humans have for gaining knowledge.
Use cases explored were,

  • A/B Testing – Experimenting with your products is a powerful method to glean useful insight
  • Page flow analysis – Helps to understand more about your customers, encourage customer retention and how to provide customer value
  • Internal data as a products – Using self-service dashboards to satisfy the basic and mundane user/client requests


Ewan was also keen to highlight that coding is key to data discovery. Success for an organisation on their data analytics journey should be marked by empowering their workforce to explore their own data for insight. Two questions were prevalent during Ewan’s talk – What questions do you want to answer? And, what data do you have that could help you answer that question? I would firmly agree with Ewan’s thoughts on this! Delving into the big data and analytics sphere should not be undertaken because it is the “hot new thing” rather that there is a business problem to be solved through the use of relevant, informative data.

“Data at rest is cost, data in motion is value” – Ben Greene CTO Analytics Engines

Upon reflection on all speakers’ talks, the industry experts’ panel session and lively debates with colleagues I would contend the following as my 5 main take homes from the event.

  • Self-service big data analytics will go mainstream
  • New business models will evolve to lower the cost of entry for SMEs to the big data and analytics market
  • Hyper personalisation is a major trend with all future services and commodities trying to capitalise on this
  • Phenomenal growth in IoT means that a vast proportion of customer facing analytics deployments will provide product tracking information
  • The term “Big data” is viewed by many as a buzz word lacking in any real meaning – consensus among the panel of experts was that the term data analytics is a much more appropriate and descriptive term