The 'Big Data' buzzword

While cloud, mobile and social will continue to dominate the enterprise tech agenda in 2013, it's the accelerated use of geospatial data that's going to really turn heads.

Latst year, we witnessed three major trends in enterprise technology: cloud, social and mobile. Businesses, both large and small, are embracing these technologies to enable more mobile, social and collaborative styles of work. But how will these trends evolve in 2013 and how does geospatial data and big data fit in the picture?

The cloud boom

There’s no doubt that cloud is a growth industry. According to research released by IDC, cloud computing is predicted to generate more than 14 million jobs worldwide in the next three years — 10 million of which will be in the Asia-Pacific region. Businesses have recognised that using the public cloud means IT departments no longer have to manage local servers and can use their time to focus on projects that will deliver more business value.

Australian brands that have started using cloud-based tools in the past 12 months include Fairfax Media and Woolworths in Australia. For example, over 800 Woolworths store managers now use iPads on the shop floor with a custom built app called “Tap for Support” where they can log administrative issues, such as, fixing a faulty freezer.

 At the same time, the developments in mobile mean that once a company’s data is in the cloud, it can be accessed securely by employees, wherever they are based and through whichever device they prefer.  By 2015, the mobile workforce in Asia-Pacific will be twice the size of the entire US population, according to IDC. Mobility is proving to be a huge driver of change in the workplace and fuelling the consumerisation of IT trend. Ovum has found that 70 per cent  of smartphone-owning workers use their personal devices for work.

But is it safe? 

However, it also brings risks: the same research found that almost 80 per cent of today’s BYOD activity remains inadequately managed. The challenge facing companies in 2013 is how to bring together security and usability.  This is why at Google we add additional layers of enterprise-specific security for our business customers to ensure their data is safe, secure and always available when they need it.

Finally, workplaces are becoming more social. Once everyone can access the same file in the cloud, employees can work together and connect in real-time, wherever they are.

These trends of cloud, mobile and social will continue to dominate the enterprise technology agenda in 2013, evolving the workplace culture of start-ups and big business alike. However, two other major trends we expect to see more of this year are an increased use of geospatial data, and big data set crunching to support better decision-making within business finally becoming a reality.

Big Data in action 

Why now? Both of these technologies are now more accessible from a cost and a usability perspective. Previously, geospatial analysis was often an expensive and highly specialised area; typically only one or two people within an organisation would know how to use the systems. However, tools such as Google Maps or Google Earth are breaking down the barriers. This is allowing companies from real estate agents to retailers; and from utilities to media to better use location-based information in making business decisions.

 Ergon Energy is a good example of this in practice. Today, around 97 per cent of Queensland is powered by Ergon Energy. Incredibly, Ergon has twice as many poles holding their power lines than they do customers, and these power lines cover almost every part of Queensland. One of the most common issues is tree vegetation growing into power lines that cause power outages for customers. In the past, whenever there was a power line related problem, Ergon would need to do three trips just to gather information before they could fix the pole or power line.

Some time ago Ergon decided there must be a better way, so they undertook an ambitious project called ‘Remote Observation and Automated Modelling for Economic Simulation’, aka ROAMES. The goal of ROAMES is to collect high resolution digital photographs and super accurate three dimensional LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning data for every centimetre of wire and power poles across the whole of Queensland by flying specialised high-tech aircraft over the top of these power lines.

By using Google Maps Engine to integrate Ergon’s accurate high resolution 3D imagery data with Google Maps, Street View, Google Earth, and some very clever software developed by ROAMES, they can now automatically identify and predict when trees are growing too close to their power lines. Ergon use this information to automatically create a work order that instructs Ergon field crews exactly where to travel to cut a particular tree’s intruding branches.

The integration with Google Maps Engine allows Ergon to save more than 10 per cent in costs relating to cutting trees — or ‘vegetation management’, as they call it. Ergon also expect that power outage times will be significantly reduced.

Crunching terabytes

Similarly, 2013 will see the ability to crunch big data come into its own. This is largely due to the fact that there are now tools available that allow users to find patterns in large data sets quickly, create new analytics products and build business analysis tools. For example, redBus, an online travel agency in India, has used such tools to introduce an internet bus ticketing system that unifies tens of thousands of bus schedules into a single booking system. redBus then crunches terabytes of booking and inventory data so they can give a full picture of what is happening with buses in India; and this all happens in seconds.

This year will see businesses further develop their focus on enabling mobile, social and collaboration technologies - together with geospatial and big data. For business, the ability to take huge sets of data and then process them fast and cheaply will revolutionise the type of data-led insights companies can achieve, in real-time.

Doug Farber is Google's managing director enterprise for the APAC region.