By Dr Michael Flanagan, CTO at Arieso.

Operators should not ignore what may appear to be peripheral issues to the Big Data challenge.

altBig Data, which was born of the broader IT industry and its massive server farms and data centres, has become the catch-all term for vast volumes of data that are difficult to handle and even harder to analyse.

For the mobile telecoms industry, we can more tightly define Big Data as the information that is generated and collected as users interact with networks and services.

This data is being generated in vast quantities; while mobile subscription penetration has peaked in most developed markets, faster network speeds and a wealth of new services and online information mean users are spending more time using their mobile devices – creating data trails everywhere they go. 

And increasing data capture capabilities in Operations Support Systems and dropping memory costs effectively make Big Data even bigger.

Leaving aside privacy and security issues for the moment, operators are now spending more time pondering what to do with the potential gold mine of information at their disposal.

As some mobile services become commoditised and the threat from over the top services grow, many operators see Big Data as the silver bullet that can help establish new, revenue-generating customer experience programmes.

But the industry is at risk of overlooking the important stages that precede and follow the collection of usage data.

It’s important that Big Data is used to create big insights that drive big actions to positively change business outcomes.

We see three fundamental steps for operators to make the most of big data.

First, operators must decide what they want to achieve with this data. For example, can it be used to inform marketing campaigns to users? If so, what kind of offers do you want to make?

Or, can the data be used to better understand network performance conditions? If yes, then what aspects of performance do you want to change or control?

Should the data be used to drive better deals and more positive relationships with suppliers and partners? What level of detail are you prepared to reveal? 

This first step can involve changes to corporate culture as the basis for decisions would increasingly be dependent on customer-centric data instead of the more traditional network-centric data, such as drive test data and switch statistics.

Second, once you understand what you want to achieve, it’s important to understand what data you have and what data you still need to capture.

The chances are that, one way or another, it’s all there somewhere. But is it accessible? Who needs access to it? Are there any components missing, and if so, how do you solve that challenge?

Third, once you have what you need, are you able to analyse it?

Without the ability to perform detailed analysis and inspection, operators are merely sitting on a vast pile of information that is of significantly limited value.

Considering data as a valuable asset, analysis is by far the most important aspect of Big Data; deep analysis delivers valuable insight that drives decisions that can help operators generate (or save) substantial sums of cash.

When thinking about this final aspect of big data, important questions to ask include whether analysis can be cut different ways for different purposes? Does analysis need to happen in real-time? Does it provide actionable insights that inform business decisions?

Operators that have access to the tools that provide insight into the network, as seen by the subscriber, stand a far better chance of successfully planning, managing and optimising their service.

When all is said and done, the old adage of “it’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it that counts,” still rings true.

The Q2 issue of European Communications, out later this month, features a special report on Big Data. Click here to ensure you get your copy.

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