The sheer volume of data traversing computer networks around the world is accelerating every day. According to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office, “big data” – as it is now universally known – will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth and innovation. In a report released last May, MGI and McKinsey found that “increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.” MGI and McKinsey have it exactly right. In fact, I recently spoke to a group of Neustar employees on this very issue.
But the media coverage of big data – and even the phrase itself –focuses only on its volume and, I think, often misses the point. Data (whether it be big, medium or small) is just an input. It is useless without both an understanding of the business challenges to be addressed, and an analytical framework for understanding the data in ways that address those challenges.
The “big data” we read about is really nothing more than data sets so large that traditional software is unable to capture, analyze or process them effectively. Nevertheless, the hope is that this information may offer real opportunities in a variety of business sectors. But there has been surprisingly little work effectively demonstrating what useful information businesses can glean from their data. Nor has there been much effective work on how businesses can protect the integrity of their data to ensure that it is not used inappropriately. For all the talk about big data, then, few companies have yet been able to turn their raw data into useful information. Still, companies rightfully suspect that much of their unstructured data contains valuable information that can, if leveraged properly and safely, significantly help their businesses.
At Neustar, we look beyond the sheer volume of data and instead focus on transforming such data into actionable insights. We organize, enhance, and analyze these massive data sets to provide commercial intelligence for our customers. We take our customer’s data, compare it to our own unique data sets, and use powerful and proprietary analytic tools to transform volumes of noisy data into “intelligent” insights and advice–providing businesses with “aha moments” that help them grow.
Of course, it takes constant vigilance to handle this data responsibly and to make sure it is never used improperly. We are committed to protecting the proprietary information entrusted to us by our customers and to protecting the privacy of people who do business with our customers. Our “privacy by design” approach allows us to build privacy protections into these new services and tools as we design and build them.
At one of our newest offices, the Neustar Labs Innovation Center, employees are working to find new ways to analyze data in this spirit of providing useful advice, while protecting consumer privacy. Located in the research park at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Center has access to students in one of the top five computer science departments in the country. There, our student interns and employees work on complex problems involving massive data sets, machine learning, visualization, and other areas of computer science to help make this shift.
For example, we’re exploring ways to use our DNS traffic data (of which we collect eight gigabytes per day) to get a better picture of malicious behavior on the Internet. This data, when properly analyzed, can also help us understand and optimize Internet traffic. In fact, we’ve even discovered ways to optimize our own DNS network through this exploration.
Data will only continue to grow in volume and, if handled correctly, importance. As it does, Neustar is poised to help businesses turn “big data” into actionable insights in a way that protects both the integrity of that data and the privacy of consumers. Our ultimate goal is to help our customers cut through the increasing noise generated by overwhelming amounts of data and zero in on the analysis that will have a positive impact on their businesses.