01 Apr

Big data has big potential: tech bosses

With the cost of capturing and leveraging data falling, there’s millions of dollars to be made, the heads of two tech giants say

From facial recognition elevators to socks that connect you with the best fitting shoe, big data is fast becoming big business.

And Australia's tech titans are warning that companies who fail to tap into these "rivers of gold" and make them part of their DNA risk becoming irrelevant.

They say with so much data at corporate fingertips thanks to the explosion of smart devices, there are plenty of lucrative opportunities for those who know how to use it.

Intel Australia & New Zealand managing director Kate Burleigh describes data gathering as the single most exciting thing in the IT industry today.

She says companies can attach a chip or sensor to almost anything and turn it into a smart device that will deliver tonnes of information ready to be mined.

"Why shouldn't my coffee cup ping to the internet with some bit of anonymised data that could be used in some way?" she told an Australian British Chamber of Commerce lunch this week.

"It's all about how we're tapping into mining these rivers of gold to turn up something that could be the next disrupter or the next innovative idea."

The cost of crunching this data has also come down considerably.

In the past such tasks were only really done by the military or NASA on a big scale, Ms Burleigh said.

"Now it's easily and readily available to any CIO (chief information officer), online business or any start-up."

The types of devices that companies can extract data from has ballooned from the humble PC to smart phones, clothing, TVs and even watches.

Software giant Microsoft is currently researching elevators that use facial recognition technology, while others are trialling sensors in socks to help shoppers find the best shoe fit.

Managing director of Microsoft Australia Pip Marlow says mineral-rich Australia needs to be more than the world's "largest quarry" and use data technology to drive productivity and jobs.

"The collection of data through all these sensors and devices that we have will empower marketing - how you talk to your customers," she said.

"It will empower consumer choice. It's opened up incredible potential."

BlueChilli founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, whose company helps non-tech entrepreneurs build tech businesses, says there are huge opportunities in leveraging the data that flows through Australia's $79 billion digital economy.

He says a prime example is Google's acquisition of Israeli start-up Waze, a social GPS-based traffic and navigation app, for $1.2 billion in 2013.

Google wants to use data collected by Waze in the driverless cars the internet behemoth hopes will hit the road within five years.

"This can be a very powerful mechanism for them to make more money," Mr Eckersley-Maslin said.

"It crystallises for me what the value of that data is worth."


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