A key factor in the success of the Internet of Things will be the ability to make appropriate use of the vast amount of data generated by the interconnected objects. Specialist ‘Big Data’ technologies will not only store that data, but most especially analyse it and make it available for a wide variety of purposes.
The volume of data produced worldwide is doubling every two years according to recent estimates. 1.8 zettabytes – or 1.8 trillion bytes – of data were generated last year alone. As everyday objects become more and more interconnected, the Internet of Things will boost that trend still further. This will make the question of how to handle such enormous data flows, and how to make better use of them, increasingly important. Because conventional approaches to information processing are reaching their limits: The volumes of data are overstretching conventional database systems, while at the same time widely differing data formats – videos, text, sensor data etc. – are having to be processed and analysed, in some cases in real time. This is where so-called Big Data solutions can help: They enable large, heterogeneous data sets to be analysed at high speed. “Big Data is more than just lots of data; it is above all a challenge to the scientific and business communities to deliver and interpret the right data, at the right time, in the right context, and derive the right action from it,” stresses Peter Liggesmeyer, Vice President of the German Informatics Society (GI).
A wide range of applications have already been implemented
In fact, Big Data is no longer a futuristic vision; it is already being turned into reality, as highlighted by the recent IBM study “Analytics: The real-world use of big data”. It found that around three quarters of the companies surveyed had already launched, or were planning to launch, Big Data projects. “One in four companies have even already started realising concrete projects,” reports Martina Fiddrich, IBM Director of Sales Midmarket IMT DACH. “Our study also reveals what SMEs hope to gain from Big Data in concrete terms: they want to understand their customers’ needs and behaviour better, and to be able to respond more rapidly to those needs.” But it is not just businesses which can profit from Big Data: In Stockholm, for example, Big Data technology is being deployed to manage the road traffic. Real-time analysis of some 250,000 anonymised items of road user location data together with data from a variety of video and sensor systems has cut individual drive times by as much as 50 percent and reduced emissions by 20 percent. Big Data offers major opportunities in the medical field too: New analytical methods will allow data from thousands of studies and anonymised patient records to be utilised in order to develop personalised therapies with significantly better chances of obtaining cures, such as for cancer patients.
No success without data protection
The Big Data market is still relatively new, but according to a study by the Experton Group global sales in 2011 were already around 3.3 billion Euro. The figure for 2012 is expected to be about a third higher again, at around 4.5 billion Euro. And by 2016 the global Big Data market is forecast to be worth almost 16 billion Euro. “Big Data will be one of the key technologies in mastering the great challenges of the future, such as maintaining a high standard of healthcare and successfully changing the direction of energy policy,” asserts Michael Kleinemeier from the German Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM). But that will only happen if one precondition is met: “In order to utilise the opportunities offered by Big Data, and safely prevent abuse, a new balance must be found with regard to data protection.” Because the more data is available for evaluation, the greater will be the risk of abuse and loss of control. That is why German Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner is demanding that data protection should be built-in right from the design stage of Big Data applications. She is also keen to help users preserve their rights by providing active informed consent. As she asserts: “That is particularly important where user profiles are created.” Bulk evaluation must only be allowed in relation to effectively anonymised data.” Aigner also wants the EU data protection directive to be rapidly advanced as an instrument for protecting consumers and Internet users, and to place data protection on a high level Europe-wide: “Data protection laws must finally be brought in line with the information age, at a European level.” In doing so, she acknowledges that a balance is needed between innovation and privacy: “In view of the ever more sophisticated data acquisition and analysis technologies available, we need a broad-based public debate about data protection. That is why it is important to lay the foundations for data protection in relation to Big Data now, before it’s too late.”