Big Data Equals Big Gains for All

Avinash Mittal, IT - Head, Telenor (India) Communications | Friday, 12 August 2016, 06:51 IST

Every click creates a data point that gets captured on a server. This data has huge potential to improve customer centric services especially for the masses.

We are living in a hyper connected world where people are leaving information or their digital footprints in various forms - either in the form of user generated content such as videos, pictures and Facebook comments, or commercial transactions, search histories, reviews, feedback, queries on consumer platforms etc. Not just people but information is also being left behind by uniquely identifiable objects that are connected to the internet and can be tracked. The sensors, social media, internet activities, multimedia content, GPS - every click creates a data point that gets captured somewhere on one of the servers. Estimates show that every day over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created. This tsunami of data is only going to grow bigger and by 2020 industry experts say 32 billion connected devices will generate 44 trillion GB of data every year. Which means each device will create nearly 4.5 GB of data. But what happens to the data once it has been created?

This form of unstructured information or data, popularly known as big data, if properly analysed can address several challenges that consumer facing companies, such as telecom operators face today. Big data can help us answer important business questions. It can help in better understanding of customer behaviour, performance and demand of specific products. Customer pain points like spamming can be reduced, and messages can be delivered to the right ones instead. This data can also be used for societal development, identifying disease outbreaks or predicting impending economic downturns.

Big data can be used to introduce services beyond vanilla voice and data products and align business goals with initiatives like Digital India. E-governance services like education, healthcare, citizen services, financial services can be modified to be relevant and affordable for the masses. For example, while we can make the entire school curriculum digital but without understanding smart phone or smart device penetration in rural areas, the digital education might not reach the right students. Big data analysis can guide developers to create modules that can be delivered on feature phones and the content can be targeted to benefit the right users.

As telecom operators, we have access to a wide array of behavioural data, which hold great promise for ICT monitoring and providing quick benefit to consumers. If used responsibly, this data can help address different societal issues in the area of education, healthcare, disaster management etc. In fact, in 2016 we see this as a key trend - telecom big data will be used more tangibly to help society for the purpose of social good.

At Telenor Group, we have used our Big data in privacy-conscientious ways in some of our markets. In one of the countries, for example, we used data to study how human mobility impacts the spread of dengue fever. Telenor Research in conjunction with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Oxford University, the US Center for Disease Control, and the University of Peshawar, demonstrated the power of mobile data to predict and track the spread of epidemic disease.

By using mobile phone-based mobility estimates, we could accurately predict the geographic spread and timing of epidemics in both recently epidemic and emerging locations. The study combined the data with dengue climate-suitability maps and estimates of seasonal dengue virus importation to generate fine-scale risk maps. For this study, we took great care to make sure all data was anonymized and aggregated before doing any analysis. The result has been concrete 'heat maps' that help the authorities better predict the outbreak of dengue in that country and thus know where to send aid.

Utilization of data in this manner to generate useful insights is important for society, because it can save lives. But doing it right in terms of privacy is also critical, to keep the trust of the customers which is what operators have to be careful about. The awareness of the potential is now growing among policy makers and industry. The United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) and National Statistical Organizations (NSOs) are also looking into ways of using big data sources to complement official statistics and better meet their objectives for providing timely and accurate evidence for policy making.

Big data analytics is a key point of discussion across the globe and its impact is being envisioned in several ways in the future. What is most important is to educate all the relevant stakeholders and decision makers on what analytics can or cannot do, as well as describe the key challenges involved. This will set the expectations right and help in delivering relevant results in any analytics project undertaken!