BT: Turning big data into better data

Simon Farr
Simon Farr

Big Data – and the information we can glean from it – has been getting everybody excited for a while. But it’s only just getting started, says Simon Farr, Director of Customer Innovation at BT Global Services. In the next few years, the businesses that do best will be those that can join the dots between their organisation (and data) silos. And for that, says Farr, they’ll need the cloud.

Organisations are already harnessing the power of Big Data – and the cloud – to do some amazing things.

When every millisecond counts

In March, BT turned heads when they partnered with Williams Martini Racing. During races, BT’s fast, secure connections relay information from the track to team HQ, where engineers get instant access to real-time data on every aspect of the cars’ performance. The network means the video, telemetry and voice applications the team back in the UK relies on all perform – optimally

‘Very fine margins settle races in Formula One. By moving data fast, we’re helping Williams get ahead. Millisecond by millisecond. It’s an unusual example, but really all sorts of organisations can get an advantage by harnessing data.’

Spotting patterns, heading off trouble

BT knows first-hand how the right data can help beat rivals. Or, to be more specific, cyber criminals, Farr explains. Using their SATURN software, BT use big data analytics to combat emerging cyber threats. BT developed SATURN with the UK’s national innovation agency to crunch through huge amounts of data in minutes and spot patterns. It helps them analyse firewall data and pinpoint attack trends and concentrated threats. SATURN then shows the results visually – so users can see exactly what’s happening, as it happens.

Simon Farr says: ‘In the past, we had to just react to people hacking our servers. Now, we can literally see potential trouble coming, and stop it happening .’

BT also worked with TNT, the delivery firm, connecting the supply chain so they knew exactly where packages were. That speeded up delivery times by 16% – essential when delivering spare parts in a two-hour window, as TNT does.

And there’s the work with Milton Keynes Council to create a smart city. An information hub developed with the Open University gathers data from sensors all over the city – including energy, water, transport, satellite images, and social media – to help improve public services.

The council ran a pilot to track parking spaces, giving drivers a real-time idea of how many were free. It also told the council how long people used a space on average, so they could adjust waiting limits fairly. Milton Keynes is now planning to roll out the technology to one in five spaces.

Why does it matter? While the city has 25,000 spaces, forecasts say it needs another 12,000 by 2020. But at any one time, around 7,000 bays are empty. New spaces cost £15,000 each, so the city could save a huge amount by making sure it isn’t wasting the parking it’s already got.

From what’s happening to why it’s happening

But while an isolated system scanning one set of data can show you what is going on, it can’t show you why it’s happening. That’s changing, Farr says.

‘Single sources of data will help you spot patterns. But it becomes a lot more effective when you can link different sources of data together. Retailers, for instance, can make connections between how a customer behaves in a store with what they do online. Analysing that information lets them create offers, depending on when and where the customer is shopping. That helps create the experience that’s the difference between the customer staying with them and going somewhere else.’

To get this sort of insight from data, and get it fast, companies need to connect all their cloud services from one central place, says Farr. A cloud of clouds, as BT calls it. That’s what BT is focusing on – being the mediator between cloud providers and the customer. Once you have that, you can analyse everything, and truly reap the rewards of Big Data to get Better Data.

Simon Farr will be speaking on ‘Developing Business Models to Successfully Monetize Data Externally’ on Day 2 (Wednesday 21st) of the Broadband World Forum, 14:20 – see the app/event guide for more info

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