The European Union’s moves towards an open data directive, updating the terms of the reuse of public sector information, will create 58,000 jobs in the UK up to 2017 and will add £216bn to the country’s economy, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
Mikael Hagstrom, executive vice-president for the EMEA region of SAS, a statistical software supplier, says the directive will help the EU to tackle Europe’s youth unemployment and stimulate economic growth. To achieve this, he argues it is essential to put the next generation of skills into the workplace.
“Big data needs to be fully leveraged into the European economy, as most of the work has been focused on automation, and not on utilisation,” he adds. EU-based companies therefore need, in his view, to focus on getting value out of big data.
The CEBR produced a report in June 2013 for SAS, entitled Data on the Balance Sheet, which argues that big data should be an asset that should appear as an intangible asset on a balance sheet because it can generate financial and economic value. The value is derived from the insight and use of the knowledge that is gained from data analytics.
"An appropriately skilled workforce will enable better insights to be extracted from the big data, as well as the ability to better manage the flow of information throughout an organisation, especially for data security and compliance reasons,” says the report’s co-author. Shehan Mohamed of the CEBR.
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Move up the value chain
Hagstrom adds that the utilisation of big data is “about moving up the value chain to produce products and services”. He says Europe’s service economy currently equates to about 70% of the EU’s GDP, but exports only amount to 23%. In the UK, these figures are slightly higher, but he says this leaves a big gap, and much of the economy is very much enabled by IT.
Data, for example, drives the region’s digital economy and the moves towards an open data directive offer an opportunity to bridge this gap, while creating jobs and growth in the EU. The opportunity lies in exporting Europe’s service economy. Innovation in the traditional non-digital economy can also play a role in stimulating growth, and he argues that there is a need to embrace the digital economy too.
“The UK can be competitive in the global economy – especially in areas such as mobile and digital marketing, which are global by their very nature, and the telecommunications sector is estimated to be a $4tn market,” he says. Similarly, Hagstrom says mobile advertising and mobile commerce are worth a comparative amount.
Therefore the companies that can take advantage of these markets will be able to export their services with the help of IT, and yet this opportunity depends very much on how they use big data “to gain better knowledge of their clients, how and when to offer them products and services”, he says.
This will inevitably require a consideration about how an organisation’s workforce is deployed too, and employees will need an analytical frame of mind to extract the value from data.
“You need to see through the digital-savvy rule among the unemployed and find out how many of them have graduated in technology, as well as understanding how many graduates are analytics focused – and they include people who’ve studied science, engineering and maths,” says Karthik Krishnamurthy, business intelligence practice leader at IT services company Cognizant.
He says there are not enough university courses in big data analytics, and yet the digital savvy among the unemployed can help organisations to understand social media and other digital channels to gain an insight into customer behaviour and sentiment towards them.
There is therefore a correlation between the workforce’s digital knowledge and the exploitation of big data to achieve a higher level of market competitiveness.
More on big data
“There are four elements: the impact of social channels; the actual business value that organisations can obtain from things such as customer preferences; how you handle the data; and how you clean and look at the data to ensure its quality,” he says.
With these four elements the digital knowledge of employees can, in his view, increase the accuracy of data and enable organisations to “touch” more social channels, and visualisation technologies can be used to understand the extracted data from these sources and the growing number of traditional, mobile and digital channels.
The problem that SAS’s Hagstrom points out is that organisations have too much of a tendency to store the data in large data warehouses. They don’t use the data enough in a way that makes it relevant for the benefit of users.
Big data has often been about infrastructure too, and it becomes viewed as a cost rather than an asset from which value can be derived.
Hagstrom says: “If we implement an e-health system which is automated, how are we going to see the data? The data will be wrong or incomplete if a hospital’s nurses are asked to enter it, and that’s even more likely to happen if they feel tired at the end of a 12-hour shift.
“So it’s better to try to visualise the data you already have, and this could be unstructured data or textual data that doctors have written down,” says Hagstrom.
He claims that jobs can be created through digitisation, and that data visualisation enables companies to liquidise big data in such a way that it becomes possible to monetise it.