Big data has already significantly changed our lives and our businesses, simply through the ability of technology to collect masses of data and store it incredibly cheaply.

What is big data?

Big data is simply the everyday data we can collect as part of what our business already does. It’s data from every available point collected as frequently as possible. The important element of big data is that it is not selective; it is not drawn from a sample group, or over a specific period. It is the whole picture, and as a result is sometimes inaccurate (messy), disorganised, and therefore unbiased.

In their book “Big Data: the essential guide to work, life and learning in the age of insight”, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier examine the explosion of big data and the opportunities it presents. The figures are astounding:

“Google processes more than 24 petabytes of data per day, a volume that is thousands of times the quantity of all printed materials in the US Library of Congress. Facebook, a company that did not exist a decade ago, gets more than 10 million new photos uploaded every hour. Facebook members click a “Like” button or leave a comment nearly three billion times per day, creating a digital trail that the company can mine to learn about users’ preferences. Meanwhile, the 800 million monthly users of Google’s YouTube service upload over an hour of video every second.”


Big data day-to-day

Your business may not actively collect big data, but it relies on it every day. Internet search engines use big data to show you the most probable match to your search query. Online retailers uses big data to suggest products you might like to add to your basket. Even the spell checker and dictation software in your phone relies on the results of millions of previous texts, emails and spoken requests to improve its accuracy. And, as the above figure shows, social media companies have a goldmine of information to work with.


Causality and correlation

Big data in itself is just data. It is how it is viewed that turns it into valuable commercial information. One of the major points Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier raise about big data is that it not about setting a hypothesis and gathering data to try and prove/disprove it.

“As humans we have been conditioned to look for causes, even though searching for causality is often difficult and may lead us down the wrong paths. In a big-data world, by contrast, we won’t have to be fixated on causality; Instead we can discover patterns and correlations in the data that offer us novel and invaluable insights. The correlations may not tell us precisely why something is happening, but they alert us that it is happening. And in many situations that is good enough.”


Big data and employee apps

Every employee engagement app collects data which is invaluable to your business, from who is online when, to which employee posts the most. Most apps give you set reports where you can view that data, but here is where the first traits of bias enter the big data. The software developers will inevitably choose what data to show you, and how to show it to you. That’s fine so long as you are aware of the bias, and can compare data across a wide enough range of options to see the bigger picture.

It is this bigger picture that allows you to spot the patterns Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier describe, and which enable you to see connections that otherwise might remain hidden. For example, a comprehensive view of data might reveal that employees based out of the office access the app at different times to office based staff, and are looking for different information at different times. Therefore, you may decide that notifications for home workers are sent separately at a time to suit them, not the office workers.


Collecting big data

The more comprehensive your employee app features, the more data you can collect and watch for emerging patterns. The TalkFreely app has multiple features, enabling it to act as a single channel across your entire business or enterprise. So, you can use TalkFreely as:

  • a primary communication channel for news and events
  • an employee engagement platform for conversations, polls, surveys
  • a reward and recognition system
  • a more effective HR solution for sick leave, holidays and training
  • to enable employee-led innovation
  • as an effective change communication tool

The huge advantage is that all that data generated will be gathered from within TalkFreely, giving you the opportunity to spot patterns across the whole of your business activity, not just a small sector.


Who owns your data?

One of the most interesting parts of big data is the recognition of its commercial value. Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier give many examples of companies bought out not for the value of their business, but the commercial value of their data. So, it is an important consideration when choosing an employee app as to who owns your data, and how much of it you can access.

At TalkFreely, we host all our systems on our own platform here in the UK, so your data is both secure and accessible. Since we develop our own app continually, we can customise your TalkFreely app in any way you require in terms of data extraction. You can use the high level reporting already included, or ask us for our help to create specific reports or data feeds that you require. TalkFreely offers a high level of customisation, technical support and backend upgrades too.

If you’re interested in gathering big data from your business, call us to discuss your particular requirements, and how TalkFreely can put you in the big picture.