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Big data analytics: How far will businesses go to uncover their customers’ desires?

To deliver products and services that people want, businesses must learn to think like them to better understand buyer perception and bridge a relationship with their respective market. The concept of collecting data for analysis has been around for years - capturing data that streams into businesses, and then analyzing the findings to obtain valuable customer information. But only in today's rapidly evolving realm of big data analytics, we are seeing organizations capitalizing on the ability to tap into millions of consumer feelings and interactions through information provided by the likes of social media platforms.

Big data analytics has the potential to enable organizations to harness their data and use it to identify new opportunities to serve their market. Through increased understanding, businesses can then make smarter moves based on that knowledge, to execute more efficient operations, gain higher profits and make their customers happier. In his report Big Data in Big Companies, Tom Davenport, Director of Research at the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) spoke to more than 50 organizations to understand the ways they used big data to their benefit.

One of the benefits of big data analytics that Davenport highlights is cost reduction. Big data technologies such as Apache Hadoop, an open-source software framework for distributed storage and distributed processing of large data sets on computer clusters, and other cloud-based analytics, allow for significant cost advantages when it comes to storing large amounts of data. It also allows for the identification of more efficient ways to conduct business.

Better and faster decision-making is another highlighted advantage of big data analytics in the report. For example, with the speed of Apache Hadoop and in-memory analytics, combined with the ability to analyze new sources of data, information can be analyzed immediately, and subsequent decisions can also be made quickly, based on this speed.

Finally, the report highlights new products and services as an advantage of big data analytics. It's all about figuring out what people want in business, which comes from the ability to draw information from customers expressing their needs and level of satisfaction. Davenport points out that with big data analytics, more companies are creating products to meet their customers' needs.

"High-performance analytics lets you do things you never thought about before because the data volumes were just way too big," reads a white paper called Big Data Meets Big Data Analytics. "For instance, you can get timely insights to make decisions about fleeting opportunities, get precise answers for hard-to-solve problems, and uncover new growth opportunities - all while using IT resources more effectively."

Argentina-based QSocialNow is a business example of reaping big data benefits to promote opportunities. QSocialNow is a social media analytics platform that specializes in the collection and analysis of all data that goes around cyberspace, so that organizations can find out what is said about a general or particular subject (person, brand, product, company, institution, etc.), whether it is in social networks, media, institutional websites or blogs. It helps businesses know what is happening in the market and, based on this information, make better decisions.

The company leverages big data and a customizable analytics platform to instantaneously identify consumer reaction to brands, products, services and ideas while gauging emerging trends and sentiment changes that are crucial to customer engagement and marketing. Data can be segmented and analyzed for differing demographic needs, including socioeconomic background, location and dozens of other factors.

QSocialNow's analytics platform and Action Module provide actionable customer insights by leveraging comprehensive information management that fulfills three essential functions: by listening, comprehending and acting in real-time. This enables companies, from banks and insurance firms, to utilities, telecoms, and retailers to better bridge their relationship with their particular customers in the market.

"In the digital era, customer relationships change both temporarily and spatially in the market," says Rafael Prieto, CEO at QSocialNow. "Classic 'listening' approaches are not effective because they lack actionable insights that QSocialNow derives from qualitative and quantitative data. This allows us to pinpoint shifting customer perceptions and their rapid reactions to events, products and ideas in real-time. The strategic planning and execution of marketing and communication must occur dynamically and be backed by richer data."

When the iPhone 7 was released in September, QSocialNow was able to analyze people's feelings towards it by drawing information from online conversations. In its Feelings Analysis report about the global launch of the iPhone 7, it shows that the highest level of impact on positive feelings ascended to 56,000 conversations, and was registered between 04-09 and 11-09. The platform also picked up that the main keywords of the approbation were: 'SOFT', 'POWER', and 'NERVE'. Among the keywords with the highest negative feelings included: 'REPAIR', 'WOES' and 'HATE'.

QSocialNow's platform is able to capture the feelings and perceptions of the public regarding their constantly changing reactions to brands, products and services by leveraging big data technology. It processes thousands of conversations per second, measures and prioritizes their impacts and then evaluates through qualitative analysis models that have been tailored for distinct vertical markets.

Trouble in data sharing paradise
Mass data sharing hasn't been met with optimism by all parties. For example Facebook, unquestionably the most popular social media platform on the planet, boasting some 1.7 billion users worldwide, has been met with distrust regarding its sharing of user data with its subsidiary WhatsApp. On September 23, The Delhi High Court in India ruled that WhatsApp has to delete all user data it has on users who chose to opt out of its new policy of sharing information with Facebook. The new policy took effect on September 25. But WhatsApp is still free to share user data of those who haven't opted out of the new policy.

The European Commission's competition chief, Margarethe Vestager recently said that the relevance of user data to major corporate mergers will come under closer scrutiny as her teams get set to consider Microsoft's mega buyout of LinkedIn. Data has increasingly become a major driver for big acquisitions in the digital world, including the blockbuster buyout of WhatsApp by Facebook in 2014 that was waved through at the EU by Vestager's predecessor.

"I will keep a close eye on how companies use data," Vestager said at a conference in Brussels. "A company might even buy up a rival just to get hold of its data, even though it hasn't yet managed to turn that data into money," she added.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Alex Pentland, a Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, talked about the complications facing big data sharing, and touched on the assumption that all data being generated by internet companies and devices scattered across the world belongs to the organizations collecting it. He suggests that companies don't own the data shared, and that "without rules defining who does, consumers will revolt, regulators will swoop down, and the Internet of Things will fail to reach its potential."

Consumers are becoming more aware of data collection in today's world of social media sharing, and suspicion is growing about data collected by companies about people's preferences, and so on. Pentland says some consumers may decide that they're okay with their data being shared, but people need to know when they are being spied on. "It's a big, ongoing battle among industry and regulators and consumer groups," he says. "Do you have the right to know what people are collecting?"