I Love It When U Call Me Big Da-Ta

BigData3jpgIn the 90s, Hip Hop was divided along very crude lines between Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

One could not love both; one had to pick sides, coordinate the right bandana colors and wave the right gang signs or one’s street cred as a hip hop enthusiast was shot.

20 years later the debate seems trivial, dying in the glowing embers of a purist’s memory.

Both men are dead. (If you don’t buy that 2Pac is on a beach in Cuba smoking a cigar!)

To claim West coast or East coast victory at this point seems outdated, especially when the champion of that rap battle is Big Data.  For example, if ‘rap greatest’  was defined by having the largest unique vocabulary, Wu Tang would have a bigger vocabulary at 5,895 words than Shakespeare(who has a bigger vocab than Biggie and 2Pac) at 5,170 words.  But Big Data has a bigger vocabulary than Wu-Tang at infinity.

Because the internet has erased geographic borders and time zones, Big Data’s ubiquity and mobility dwarfs the loudest hip hop historians.

Big Data is a statistical study and technology aggregation of massive quantities of information on anything. It is not corporate analysis of structured, transactional items found in ERP, CRM and SCM tools.  It is the joint analysis of structured and unstructured data within a company, with external data sources integrated as well.  It could include comments on Facebook, mp3s of rap music, thousands of emails, collaboration activity on SharePoint, web page content, server logs, stock market tickers, GPS imagery, car telemetry, etc.  It is so hot-messy, voluminous and fast that conventional database systems and architectures cannot process or tame it.  Valuable patterns of user insight and hidden sentiment lay within it, but the feasibility to extract it can be costly.  Today’s commodity cloud architectures, open source software (like Hadoop) and API plug-ins make it possible to prep Big Data for analytics, improving operations, reducing defects or developing new products.

All companies have to do is rent server-time in the cloud to swim in the Big Data flood and learn.  Netflix and Amazon have applied Big Data in elegant ways with their recommendation engines based on prior purchase habits.   Facebook combs posts and combines user signals to friend’s responses to supply highly personalized customer journeys and advertising models for businesses.

However, that dataset consistency often deteriorates between physical and digital brand channels.  How many times have you seen something cool on a mobile site, then walked into the store and the staff does not have the foggiest about what you’re talking?  It is because their organizations and systems are not designed that way.  Ecommerce platforms tracks cookies and pixels.  And reps at retail establishments or bouncers at a club are not going to check your iPhone browser history.  Due to a historical focus on platforms, rather than functions,  businesses will build an in-store point of sale system, then a website and then a mobile app, all with different architectures.  Making Big Data a conundrum: the more we know about it, the less we know about it.

Thus, in order to beat Big Data, companies must embrace data analytics as a core competency or be in survival mode.   When Biggie and 2Pac grabbed the mike 1) message  2) flow 3) delivery 4) technique 5) beats/production was all you needed to be considered a good MC.   Today, I would argue that smart MCs need to be data literate also, not only English-literate.  Mckinsey & Co forecasted a shortage of at least 1.5M people with data skills by 2015.  In the coming decade,  statistics and probabilities will be the new in-demand languages to dismantle the volume, velocity, veracity and variety of Big Data.  Only those who reprogram and reskill themselves for an analytic future should be crowned title of “greatest of all time.”

Thingification 1 & Thingification 2

Remember Thing 1 and Thing 2 in Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat: Twin humanoid-like “Things” in red pajamas with cotton-candy blue Afros.

Cat in the Hat released them from a big red box to brighten the rainy day of some bored kids.

These “Things” caused mayhem,  talking jive, flying kites in the house, knocking pictures off the wall and messing with other people’s clothes.  And they would not stop until the Cat in the Hat pushed them back in the big red box.

Thing 2According  to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the next major trend that will impact telecommunications is the home invasion of  “Things” like Thing 1 &2 and dedicated computing devices that bleep, blink, and bloop.  Not to mention chat behind one’s back…

From stovetops to toothbrushes, millions of “Things” will have IP addresses, not just PCs, handsets and tablets.  But unlike the children’s classic, Cat in the Hat, these “Things”,  growth drivers of the internet, will not be put back into the red box by Dr. Seuss or anyone else.

By 2020, mobile data traffic by humans will be supplanted by “Things”, by smart objects.  Specifically, smart cars and smart appliances will generate a continuous  stream of notifications; always self-aware, hunting for context, notifying the world of their presence.  It is estimated that the “Thingification” of the internet will provide 50 billion, if not trillions of new connected data sources globally by 2020.  IDC reports an annual compound growth of IoT base of 17.5% from 2013 to 2020 and a market valued at $7.1 trillion as the convergence of  mobility, social, big data and cloud continues.   Exit the world of exabytes. Enter the world of zettabytes.

Amazingly, these ‘Things’ can send or receive information without human contact. In fact, in the near future, installing a fridge may require loading it with a person’s likes and dislikes and “friending” it on Facebook, so when you run low on eggs it can “poke” you.  It may also be possible for your fridge to then become ‘besties’ with your washing machine to vent and chat about how you don’t do a good job cleaning up.

Objects that we never perceived as having an IQ begin to interact with people in new and exciting ways.  Dumb, clumsy devices of the past now suddenly can divulge personal secrets, building a picture of human behavior before we even know.  Current examples of these smart devices include Google’s Nest thermostats, wifi washing machines and connected cars that avoid collisions and parking fines.  Or wearable devices like Fitbit and Nike FuelBand trackers that monitor health and store that data in the cloud.

The future of hardware isn’t better versions of the same standalone tech. It’s what you can create when you extract the smarts of the smartphone and make its peer group of tech gadgets smarter and connected.  There still remains tremendous potential to “connect” our transportations systems, our highways to the internet.  Smarter highways might mean more adaptive lanes to traffic congestions, less accidental fatalities or roads that could serve fleets of autonomous vehicles driving 100 mph, inches apart.   The economic benefits to companies seeking efficiencies and effectiveness throughout its operations are manifold.  Devices that self-report will cost dramatically less than humans who hate filling out time cards, which will feed customers expectation of zero tolerance for defects and loss of service.

As the proliferation of devices move out from the cellphone and onto our bodies and into the world, industries will have to rethink the mobile network architecture, standards and interoperability of products.  The rise of the mobile devices is already having a dramatic impact on mobile network operators such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile and IoT will only exacerbate the data traffic problem.  To put it into perspective,  as a society, we’re producing and capturing more data each day than was seen by everyone since the beginning of the earth, when proto-men wrote their first hieroglyph in a cave.

As we shift from data created by people to data created by things communicating with other things, the larger question is where do humans fit? Technology should incorporate empathy, humanity and nostalgia into the design of these embedded objects that constitute the Internet of Things.  It must combine beautiful objects and information in unbelievable, magical and beautifully simple terms, seamlessly integrating into our daily life.  David Rose, an MIT tech visionary in this regard, described in his book, Enchanted Objects, four doors to the  future:


1.Terminal World: a future in which we are dominated by glass slabs to which our heads and eyeballs are glued like mobile phones and tablet

2.Prosthetics: a future where new bionics enhance our muscles and our senses, making us super-humans.

3.Animism: a future of living with social robots and cuddly objects that talk to us and pretend to care about us.

4.Enchanted Objects: a future in which everyday objects take on delightful new qualities that enrich our lives, but which do not dominate us.


I choose Door #4, because Dr. Seuss and Cat in the Hat would have wanted it that way.

Beacon & Eggs: Retail 2.0

Last night I had a dream within a dream.

I walked into a store and my smartwatch lit up, telling me “Welcome back!, Shakir.”

Soon afterwards, a mannequin with a mic in its throat, and video display-eyes tilted its head.  “How can we help you, Mr. Ramsey?”

“Need a turntable to go with those Beats headphones you bought two months ago?”

As so often happens with most dream within dreams, I could not wake up, because the line between fact and fiction was blurred.

The store of the future: An IGD research project commissioned by CCE – May 2012

That line, in reality, is called beacon technology, which is one of many emerging, disruptive technologies extending the physical realm to the digital realm, that many retailers are failing to leverage to “follow the eyeballs” of customers.

Beacons are low energy Bluetooth sensors that transmit a radio signal for up to 100 meters.  They can push notifications to a smartphone in a retail store using triangulation, making mobile experiences for consumers more personable than ever.  Through a blend of kiosks, smart mirrors and branded companion apps that use beacon technology, retailers can “remember” a customer, no matter what part of the store they browsed or items they favorited.  And this can be done independent of what sales rep was present or foot traffic levels of customers in the store.

So why are brands and retailers, slow to purchase low cost technology like beacons to increase sales via location-based marketing?  Why are retailers afraid to leverage big data tools that enable contextual, personalized, real-time dialogue with consumers? According to Deloitte, this is due to a “new digital divide”,  not to be confused with the one based on lack of access to information technologies born from socio-economic disparity.

GE Capital  Retail Bank’s second annual shopper 2013 study surmised that 81% of consumers go online before heading to the store to make a big purchase($500+).  But retailers seem stuck at the crossroads of Retail 1.0, largely failing to engage customers when in-store, leaving money on the table.  With only mobile shopping apps trying to bridge the digital gap, consumers are left with an anti-climactic feeling, gawking in incredulity that brands and retailers are out of touch.

The consumer is begging to be reached and engaged in a superior shopping experience,  but retailers and brands are neglecting them.   Even although they are best equipped to tie in big data analytics, CRM and DMP back-ends to customize messaging, they refuse to pump the real value of Beacon technology.  Thus, retailers need to step up and provide customers with a feeling of excitement and exclusivity.   Recently, Microsoft has given retailers an opportunity to provide customers this feeling,  by selling its Kinect technology to identify customers through retina scans and facial recognition.  But this level of engagement might be too intimate for some, for now.

In the meantime, marketers today need to look at customer data and attribution and create plans to reach the customer, everywhere he lives digitally.  There is no doubt, competing with the Amazon’s e-commerce shopping experience will be constant challenge.  However, the online “retail store” is going through an unbundling itself, forcing Google, eBay, and Amazon to open up their own stores moving from “clicks to bricks.”

To win customers back in Retail 2.0, marketers and brands have to eliminate departmental barriers that have grown up in the wake of digital’s first generation. They have to integrate digital intelligence across marcom and e-commerce departments and not be so siloed.  More than anything, marketers must cede control of messaging and leverage technological connectivity not only to offer deals and rewards but tell a story that awakens the customer.  Because, in the next evolution of retail – the convergence of wearables, beacons and big data –  the customer is the protagonist in control of the dream.

BitCoin Eyes

Used to be placement of coins over a dead man’s eyes paid for his soul to go to the underworld in Greek mythology.

But it turns out bitcoins (a P2P digital cryptocurrency since 2009) could bring that man’s soul back to life.  And he can keep the change, especially if he died poor and unbanked.

Bitcoins are no small laughing matter.

Some experts predict it could end world poverty.

And it’s all because as famed venture capitalist, Marc Andreesen, describes,  bitcoins are “a much deeper concept than currency. It’s the idea of distributed trust.”

Bitcoin 1

Some quick facts about Bitcoin:

  • It is virtual money with which one can buy things online
  • It is a scarce resource like gold
  • It cannot be duplicated
  • It uses block-chain technology which prevents people from spending it more than once
  • It is highly volatile and risky
  • It is not regulated by the government

In the way Napster disrupted the music industry in the 90s with p2p music file-sharing, Bitcoin has unleashed an equally powerful, disruptive idea—that people should be able to issue/get money anywhere in the world, to buy anything, with their identity completely unknown.  Such a concept spits in the eyes of traditional banking,  dismantling its centralization of power as trusted intermediaries. No one gets to “take a cut”, 2-3% or otherwise.

Over the life of many folks, the 2-3% savings that bitcoin offers as an alternative virtual currency to plastic card transactions might not seem like much.  Considering that the world economic output runs $90 trillion per year, 2-3% adds up fast into dump trucks of money, which could be poured into developing countries on the watch-list of economic collapse.

BitCoin 2Due to the anonymous nature of bitcoin transactions it has been the go-to currency for cyber-criminals.  Money laundering, Ponzi schemes, and other black market activities have all been traced to Bitcoin in the news media.  However, as it matures in concept and becomes more widely accepted beyond libertarian circles, Bitcoins could open the door for innovation with underbanked and international communities.  Since it is a verifying ledger many of the immovable mountains, such as credit worthiness, that various minority communities deal with, become mole hills to step over.

However, first things first.  Broadband infrastructure, digital and financial literacy in these communities must be prioritized investments.   For example, bitcoins are created through Bitcoin mining and exist through a computer file known as a block-chain which is like a hairy complex riddle.  After a computer works on the block chain a piece of the riddle is solved releasing 25 Bitcoins to the solver. (Cue Nintendo’s Zelda or Super Mario Brothers music)  When mining competition dwindles, the problems are easy to solve, but when the supply of Bitcoin miners and solvers increase, the problems progressively get difficult and expensive.  Hedgefunds and companies like Butterfly Labs are spending hundreds of thousands on computer software programs to swing pick axes in Bitcoin virtual mines, to break the riddle of these complex algorithms.  With BitCoin production to end in 2140 , there is still time for these underserved communities to learn these back-end technologies and get in while the currency is cheap.

What excites me is that if one has a digital wallet i.e. a mobile phone, Bitcoin doesn’t discriminate. It is finance for the people, by the people. If one lives on prepaid cards Bitcoins can enable online microloans.   If one only has a feature phone in a dilapidated village, Bitcoins can be sent SMS or satellite to nodes in outer space.  If one has a Oculus VR headset, Bitcoin can be integrated into a game engine, to create a new currency to monetize virtual worlds, and create crypto-entrepreneurs.   The scenarios of possibilities are endless if one takes the Bitcoins off their eyes and opens up their soul to the unheard of opportunities of #digitalfutures.