Will big data ultimately lead to big opportunity in the UK?

What does the term ‘big data’ mean to you? Well, it appears that it means different things to different people. A recent survey by Computing tried to get to the bottom of the issue and find out what the term meant to its readership: the results proved to be interesting. 28 percent saw big data as vendor hype, 37 percent viewed it as nothing other than a’ big’ problem, because they associated the term with increased data volumes, and 27 percent claimed it was a big opportunity that too few organisations were prepared to grasp. Unfortunately the survey merely proved the point that everyone has a different take on the subject. However, whilst they might not be able to agree on the definition, there is a general consensus that if business and enterprise can find a way of getting information economically out of very large data sets, then there could be exciting new opportunities  opening up and money to be made. How much money precisely has not really been quantified until now, but last month a report by The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and SAS, a major player in business analytics software services, concluded that harnessing big data could ultimately contribute £216 billion to the UK economy and create up to 58,000 jobs between 2012 and 2017. Whatever your views on the definition of big data, or the value of big data analytics, we think you’ll agree that’s pretty impressive.The report, called Data Equity: Unlocking the value of big data, is in fact the first comprehensive study in the UK that looks at the potential impact big data mining will have on the UK economy, and gives credence to the claim that has long been made by the industry that big data is set to herald the next phase of technology-led business innovation, productivity and competition. The vast growth of information available to enterprise opens up tremendous opportunities for business, but it also poses rather large challenges. How is this wealth of information best utilised? How can business and enterprise use the ever-increasing amount of data effectively and efficiently?The answer is, of course, by using cutting-edge big data analytic solutions, to unlock the value of data and reveal hitherto unseen patterns, sentiments and customer intelligence. As an example of such high-tech solutions, SAS quoted work it had done with a leading telecommunications company to improve the mining of its data sets. The powerful analytics software has now been able to cut down the analysis of its customer base from 11 hours to 10 seconds.

The report calculated that big data contributed about £25.1bn to the UK economy in 2011 and this is forecast to reach £40.7bn by 2017. It also claimed that big data analytics adoption will also increase from 34 per cent in 2011 to 54 per cent in 2017.CEBR said that big data will benefit the UK economy in three ways: business creation, efficiency and innovation. It also claimed that the large majority of the 58,000 jobs created would be data specialist roles, though Charles Randall, analytics product manager at SAS UK & Ireland, said that this large increase in necessary jobs raises concerns as to where people with the right skills are going to come from:

“There is a need for skilled workers and that’s why SAS are investing in the grass roots level of students at school to support them with their education in subjects like maths, science and engineering.”

The report found that the financial services and investment banks currently had the highest level of adoption of big data analytics solutions. However, CEBR forecast that the manufacturing sector will benefit the most from high-performance analytics and will increase its output by £8.1bn by 2017.

In an interview with Computing, Shehan Mohammed, an economist at CEBR, explained the rationale behind the study:

“What we’ve essentially done is to examine what the effect of big data analytics is when you implement this around businesses in a range of sectors, and how this technology is used to unlock the inherent economic value that is stored in the form of data across these businesses.”