The future is now: We can predict a major storm with strawberry Pop Tarts… we can save a fortune without ever making a left-hand turn in our cars… and we can know about our teen daughter’s pregnancy if she buys Skittles candy.
Steve Shepard, a globe-trotting tech specialist and professional photographer, shared those snapshots when he turned his lens on Big Data at Palmetto Engineering & Consulting’s annual PEC Showcase in January.
“This stuff is real,” the founder of Shepard Communications Group told the 150-plus participants attending PEC Showcase. “And it’s important, and if you pay attention to it, you’ll be astonished what you’re going to learn.”
And the lessons he taught to the mind-boggled telecom pros came from anecdotes about Big Data’s awesome – and often overreaching – power.
“We take massive amounts of completely uncorrelated data – data that has nothing to do with the other data in the database – and it yields this golden elixir of insight that we’ve never seen before,” the Vermont-based educator, writer and IT professional said. “And what you can do with that (data) is off the charts.”
One of Shepard’s anecdotes involved a man in the Midwest who demanded to speak to a manager at a Target. Target, Shepard notes, is one of the largest Big Data analytics companies in the world, second only, as one would guess, to Walmart.
“‘How dare you!'” Shepard says the distraught man told the befuddled store manager, who had never seen the customer before. “‘How dare you send pregnancy-product information to my daughter!'”
Turns out that Big Data knew something that the man didn’t: his teenage daughter was pregnant. And how did the mega-chain store know that? Shepard says that Big Data analytics show that, at Target, within a particular age range, if a girl eats Skittles, ever reads a particular magazine, has a certain grade-point average and uses one particular hand cream, “100 percent of the time, they’re pregnant.”
In other words, Big Data simply told Target to market a pregnancy product to the young customer based only the shopping and lifestyle habits that she had unwittingly provided and that the analytics had distilled.
Meanwhile, at Walmart, Shepard said, the National Weather Service learned from the retailing leviathan that if a store experiences a four-hour spike in sales of strawberry Pop Tarts, then in 12 hours, the same store will see a jump in D cell batteries. And 12 hours after that? “There will be a major weather event,” Shepard said.
“It’s so accurate,” Shepard said of Big Data’s findings, “that the National Weather Service has gained permission from Walmart to plug into their system to extract information, to inform the National Weather Service predictions of the weather, not the other way around.”
He noted that lemon, chocolate, vanilla or any other variety of Pop Tarts won’t do – just strawberry.
As for left-hand turns, Shepard said that the global package-delivery service, UPS, learned from Big Data that its drivers worldwide spend too much time idling… and wasting fuel. By eliminating left-hand turns, Big Data showed what Brown could do for green: the company could knock 4 million miles off of its drivers’ routes and save 1.8 million gallons of fuel a year.
“You will never, ever see a UPS driver turn left here” in the right-hand-side-of-the-road United States,” he said. “Ever.”
Of Big Data and its growth, Shepard told the engineers and telecom professionals that joining hands and jumping on board the dynamics of analytics means taking advantage of a skyrocketing opportunity.
“It’s a big industry. They’re talking about $200 billion right now,” he said, and “they’re talking about it going to $7 trillion by 2020.”
Palmetto Engineering & Consulting, founded in 2006, includes a staff of licensed professional engineers with expertise in moderate to complex electrical and telecommunications projects.