Is Big Data Just a Promise?

There’s no doubting that Big Data is a very big issue for businesses around the world today – but is it too big an issue to be of practical use in helping companies become more sustainable?

Tech companies have claimed that technologies, including cloud computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can help cut carbon emissions, model climate change and improve transparency and reporting.

Two new Technology in Sustainability reports

Two new Technology in Sustainability reports from thought leadership expert iResearch Services ask industry leaders what they think about Big Data and how it impacts sustainability.

The global Big Data market is estimated to grow in value from US$162 billion in 2021 to US268 billion by 2026, an annual compound growth rate of 12%, says Techjury.net.

The rise in Big Data

With the continued rise of mobile phones and tablets, social media, multimedia, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, businesses are producing and analysing more and more Big Data. To demonstrate the speed of growth, around 90% of the world’s data has been produced in the last two years.

Big Data includes structured and unstructured data sets that are too large for traditional relational databases to capture, manage and process. Data sources are becoming more complex and there are many more data sources.

The challenge of managing unstructured data

The result should be faster and more accurate modelling, prediction and decision-making, but with up to 90% of data generated being unstructured, coming from different sources and in different forms –customers may be able to contact businesses on websites, mobiles, tablets, email, websites and more – it is difficult and costly to manage. This is so much of an issue that even in 2019, 95% of businesses say managing unstructured data is a problem.

Big Data spending

A survey from New Vantage of around 60 Fortune 1000 companies shows just how much top companies are spending on Big Data. Almost all (97.2%) had invested in Big Data, with 12.7% spending more than $500 million, 27% from $50 million and $550 million and 60.3% under $50 million.

iResearch Services asked leading tech industry executives about the potential of big data using both qualitative and quantitative research in Parts One and Two of our How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? report.

In the first part, we assessed the views of 550 technology executives in 11 countries on whether technology companies are as sustainable as they say they are The follow-up report features in-depth commentary and practical insights from industry leaders.

Big Data and sustainability

The reports suggest that energy efficiency will be further improved if technology companies use Big Data and AI to match demand for computing power with available renewable energy.

Tech leaders Russ Shaw and Bruno Sarda are confident that big data can make a real difference for technology firms in helping them become more sustainable and reach net-zero carbon emissions, if it is made more usable.

‘Ace in the hand’

Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, a network of more than 13,000 tech leaders, entrepreneurs and experts in London in the UK and more than 50 countries, says, “Technology is the ace in our hand with the potential to make a net zero carbon footprint a reality.”

He explains, “The only way for companies to effectively address climate change is to see waste everywhere and implement strategies to reduce it.”

“With companies like Net Purpose measuring the ESG outcomes of businesses, it is easier than ever to be transparent about quantitative performance on sustainability data. To force tech companies to take notice of the fact that sustainable practices have real business benefits – before making decisions –investors should consider the wide array of relevant data. This includes factors like a company’s energy usage, metric tonnes of waste generated and plastic usage when making decisions – all this information is now available.”

Tech and green energy innovation

Bruno Sarda, Partner/Principal, Climate Change and Sustainability Services at international professional services network EY, says Big Data and AI should be used in an innovative way to maximise green energy supply and demand. With the dramatic shift in energy sources, supplies and soaring prices, which have come about following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this is a topical and important issue.

“Now you’ve seen really innovative [tech] companies consuming green energy when it’s available and by matching, or at least on an hourly basis, using a lot of real-time technologies and a lot of Big Data and artificial intelligence to start matching supply and demand.

“They look at where it’s using power and how that compares to the amount of available renewable power in that load zone. It’s an innovative use of technology to help decarbonise the tech sector. If you look at a place like California or the Pacific Northwest, there will be abundant solar energy, that isn’t necessarily getting used by the utilities, versus night-time win Texas that has a lot of wind power.”

Embracing new technologies

To address the climate crisis, we will need to embrace new technologies and rethink how we measure and use data, and ensure the culture of our sector is rooted in sustainability, says Bruno.

This will mean tech companies continuing to measure their power consumption and CO2 emissions, but, this time for a product’s entire lifespan. It is also vital that industry leaders make firm plans for how to reduce them.

The promise of Big Data

“There’s an enormous amount of data out there… on [for example] the Internet of Things (IoT) or − cheap sensors everywhere in buildings, in agriculture, in anything where you start measuring,” Bruno Sarda concludes. “[However] this promise of Big Data is just that. [The challenge is] how to make it more useable, how to make it more actionable.”

For further reading, see our Big Data Question survey, which examines the pressures and opportunities businesses are experiencing with the explosion of customer information. It found that 56% of businesses surveyed are increasingly accessing open source or publicly available data, to generate revenues, improve customer experience, and/or provide customer insights – and 33% of executives say that maintaining cloud base customer data storage is the major pressure on the industry.

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