What Is Big Data And How Can It Help Enterprise Businesses?

All of us have collected data, whether it’s in the form of something as simple as a shopping list or maybe even gathering receipts for the end of financial year tax time. Big Data is basically the same, only on a much larger scale. Let’s take that shopping list for example and build upon it. Say you have an item you need to pick up for lunch, so you head to your local grocer, you walk around the store to find the item, head to the register to pay and then head back home. In Big Data terms the grocer could have captured something that looks like this (simplified form):

Customer enters shopping centre at 11:30am on Sunday (19/8/2012) with parking ticket

Customer purchases - Lamb Roast, Generic Brand, 1.2kg, Fridge Section 2 - $24.00

Customer scans loyalty card – Capturing - name, address, age, and gender

Customer leaves car park at 11:53am on Sunday (19/8/2012)

There’s much more that can be captured but this will do for the purposes of this explanation. The grocer can collect immense amounts of data about its customers, this data when analysed correctly, can generate some great insights in order to increase sales and generate more revenue. In this case, we can get information such as this:

Generic Brand Lamb Roast Analysis Target Market 80% male, 50% aged 29 to 33, and 30% live in Richmond, Victoria.

Price / Demand Demand is greatest when priced at $19.80 per kg, 75% of sales are 1.2kg portions, 60% of sales occur between 9am and 11am on Sundays, and demand is 30% greater when placed in Fridge Section 3.

Inventory 3 remaining, next delivery 23 hours, no stock expected in 4 hours, require 4 units per hour to meet demand.

Advertising 5% used vouchers and 8% ROI from marketing campaign A.

Association 10% buy premium brands, 90% also buy generic apple juice and 98% also buy potatoes.

Convenience 30% of customers come to the shopping centre only come to my shop, 80% of my customers drive cars, and customers travel an average of 5.2km.

This information is invaluable and can be produced in real-time for targeted strategies that can be executed to drastically increase ROI. So, why wouldn’t any enterprise business want to get their hands on these insights?

Nothing comes easy; there are many difficulties that surround Big Data, the big three being – storage, visualisation and analysis. Storage is a diminishing problem with cloud computing and hardware becoming evermore inexpensive, so let’s skip over that point. The other two – visualisation and analysis, is where the major problems lie. It’s all too easy for enterprise businesses to be overly dependent on databases that operate exclusively from each other to provide limited insights across departments, agencies and even countries.

Enterprise businesses are using data more than ever to make decisions, but in a decreasingly effective manner. This is due to one simple fact; add more datasets and you exponentially increase the complexity in the analysis process, which leads to the inevitable - increases in cost, resources and time. We believe in a Big Data platform that is cost effective and is constantly evolving by simplifying the visualisation and analysis process to extract all the rewards that Big Data offers, instantly.

Crowdsourcing Benefits Businesses

What is ‘Crowdsourcing’ and how does it affect you or your business?

Simply put Crowdsourcing is a bigger and better way to gather information and solve problems… To be honest it isn’t a new concept by any means; however, it has dramatically changed as technology constantly improves. Everyone has contributed or communicated in a Crowdsourcing environment – think Facebook, Twitter or YouTube where people vote, discuss or bring ideas or problems together.

Facebook is a great example of how successful Crowdsourcing can be, so let’s take a closer look.

We all want to know where our friends are, what they are doing and what are their plans. Traditionally, we would have to call or email each other to find out, but doing this for our complete social circle would be excessively time consuming, incomplete and ultimately out dated. Facebook uses the Crowdsourcing model to solve this problem, allowing each individual of a social circle to share their experiences, location and attending events, instantly. This allows each person within the social circle to obtain up-to-date and complete information with minimal time investment.

The principle of Crowdsourcing is to take a task, idea or problem and turn it to a community of people either online or otherwise and work together in collaboration until completed.

I know what you’re thinking, this all sounds great in theory but does it work in business? Yes, when executed correctly and in the right environment, Crowdsourcing is extremely effective.

Let’s take a real world example, think for a minute that you are an accessories specialist at a major car brand and your responsibility is to benchmark pricing against competitors. This would involve conducting market research for all your competitors to then only have the need to analyse and make sense of all the data. Sound familiar? You’re not alone! You’ll find your competitors have the same problem, so why not share the workload?

The benefits are clear:

Accurate data

Complete data

Time saving

Cost saving

Crowdsourcing doesn’t eradicate business it simply evolves it, allowing businesses to approach competitors and customers as potential partners to solve problems together. Technology has been a huge stepping stone in allowing this unity to easily be established; it makes the process a lot faster and allows more people to contribute in a user friendly manner.

Looking at implementing this model in your business? Drop us a line to learn how we make this work for our Clients. Tasks worth considering to crowdsource involve data gathering for market intelligence in closed or open domains.

Trending Colours In Australia

Who would have guessed that white would be the number one colour of choice in 2011 when buying a new vehicle?

Well, it’s true! I just bought one myself!

After more than a decade of silver sitting at the top of the list for the most popular colour of choice for new cars, a recent study by one of the world’s leading manufacturers of transportation coatings revealed that white is the most popular colour to coat your new car in 2011.

The study looked at trends from around the globe and concluded that around 21% of 2011 model-year cars around the world are white. Silver and black were tied in second place at 20%.

However, distinct regional differences remain, 20% of American customers chose white as their preferred colour, and silver was second with 19% followed by black in third with 18%.

In Europe black is the most popular colour of choice with 26%, followed by white at 19% and silver coming in third with 16%.

While in Asia/Pacific regions silver ranked first with 25%, followed by white with 23% and black finishing with 17%.

Many factors play a part when buyers are considering what colour to choose for their new car. What does the colour say about the individual? Does the colour portray the buyer’s personality? Things like fashion, technology, music, television and new pigment technology all have an influence on colour trends.

So, if you want to retain the best resale value; white, silver and black seem to be the obvious choice as these colours never seem to date.

Why Australians Won't Buy 1 Million Cars In 2011

There are a number of reasons why Australia’s automotive industry hasn’t been as strong as it should have this year.

Well, what happened? We could look back to as far as 2009, ground zero where it all began. The share market crashed and the Global Financial Crisis hit hard. It was all very much a case of ‘doom and gloom’ and set the tone for what lied ahead.

With the fear of Australia facing a recession in 2009, people became cautious and tightened their budgets. Our government announced an economic stimulus package valued at $47 billion to help encourage spending and counter this defensive human behaviour. The automotive industry was also given assistance by our government, car manufacturers Ford, GM Holden and Toyota all received hand-outs towards projects in Australia.

By 2010 the automotive industry had bounced back, selling over 1 million new cars for the year, many thanks going out to the Federal Government’s business tax break.

The market was on track for another good year in 2011, but, Mother Nature had other plans. In the early months of the year a series of floods hit Australia and left Queensland, and even some parts of Victoria with a damage bill of over $1 billion, this directly related to new-car sales falling by 1.7% in January.

Before Australia even had a chance to mop up the mess an earthquake and tsunami hit the east coast of Japan in March; the impact of this tragedy is still being felt around the world today.

Car manufacturers’ from around the globe were in for some tough times ahead – parts shortage from suppliers, production issues, vehicle stock yards drying up, delays in shipments, threats of hazardous radiation, worker stoppages and no new stock to be seen from production lines. All these issues and others forced a number of major Japanese car manufacturers’ to shut down production at their plants whilst getting things back on track.

Toyota Japan’s shutdown alone affected more than 95,000 vehicle units, of which 60% were for shipment to export markets, including Australia. But it didn’t stop there, the effects also followed on to Toyota’s local plant here in Altona, Victoria; production was reduced 50% to manage available parts supply.

Source: Blue Flag Forecast & VFACTS - Sales Forecast includes Passanger, SUV, Light Commercial and Heavy Commercial Vehicles

So, will Australian’s buy 1 million cars in 2011?

With the huge 7% boost in sales in August in comparison to 2010, it’s possible but unlikely; our vehicle sales forecasts predict a sales drop of roughly 4% over last year’s figures, taking into account market trends, economic factors, as well as the lagging market due to delays. To put this into perspective, we should see a total of 999,314 new vehicles sold in 2011, with buyers expected to wait up to 5 months for a mainstream model to be delivered.

Wirelessly Charging Electric And Hybrid Vehicles

Formally known as inductive charging, this technology has been around for decades, I even remember seeing Braun’s Oral-B toothbrush have wireless charging in the early 1990s. So, why not for cars?

Of all the new innovative green technology introduced to the marketplace, this is something that we can actually expect as electric powered vehicles surge into the market. The technology has been refined over decades of R&D and is used in a variety of different industries other than automotive. If you haven’t been introduced to the technology already, you will soon be sure to see these charging pads or docks in your homes this Christmas, maybe not for your vehicles, but for your phones, mp3 players, remotes and even laptops.

The potential of this technology is endless; think of our entire road network embedding this technology, including our footpaths! Remember that major issue of EV travel range? We have an answer.

OK, let’s be realistic, we’re unlikely to see our entire road network integrate this technology because of infrastructure costs, but why not in car parking spaces and your home garage?

Marketing Say Leather, Lawyers Say Leather Look

Sell more products, after all that’s how automotive manufacturers make money. But when you sell too hard and overstate your product specifications, you’ll have the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) knocking at your door in no time. We see it time and again, and not just in the automotive industry. Let’s talk about an issue that’s been more prevalent of late.

It has many names, comes in a variety of synthetic and organic mixtures and if you were paying attention to the title you would have guessed it; leather. As a consumer, when you read the words ‘leather seats’, you expect to be getting 100% genuine leather all over, but in many cases, this is far from reality. For various reasons, there has been a trend for brands to use a mix between real and synthetic leather, forcing creative writers to bring their a-game and conjure up some clever ways to describe their product. Just grab a brochure and check out their handy-work. Leatherette, pleather, ARTICO, polyurethane leather, Maztex, leather seat facings, bonded leather, MB-tex, premium leather, alcantara, amny, buffalo; they’re all saying the same thing…includes fake leather or fake suede.

It’s a problem that isn’t just limited to cars. The ACCC presented a case that saw a market leading furniture brand Fantastic Furniture having to “not use the terms ‘leather’ or ‘hide’ to describe upholstery that is not wholly leather without clearly disclosing the fact it is not wholly leather for a period of three years”.

ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel states, “The ACCC will not tolerate traders in the furniture or any other industry misrepresenting predominantly synthetic materials as leather.” We’ve known this for a long time now, and it is recommended that automotive brands conduct independent Vehicle Audits to prevent issues with customers and the ACCC.

Whilst brands acknowledge this issue, it is only one of thousands of features that are scrutinised and many are often neglected due to the complexity of managing and verifying the details. If the ACCC decides to clamp down harder, I’m sure that no brands want to be caught in the crosshairs.

Full article from the ACCC, Clearer labelling for ‘leather look’ furniture

Parc, What Is It Good For?

We just recently conducted a project that required the use of the national car PARC, also known as the Australian Vehicle Registration Data supplied by the ABS. If you’ve ever used the data first hand or have had a supplier use this data on your behalf, you should be aware of its limitations and “trust” value.

For those of you that don’t know, PARC includes, at specific point in time, all the registered vehicles across Australia with a few high level identifier fields. I personally work with this data on a daily basis and time after time see people misusing it. Let me start by saying there are errors as with most other data sets. Take a brief glance over the data and you’ll notice spelling mistakes, incorrect fuel types, non-existent models, incorrect engines, incorrect build dates, go even deeper and you’ll find more. To make the data usable, we advise our clients at a minimum to complete a high-level cleansing process. The team here at Blue Flag offer clients a three tier cleansing process, these being, minimal, intermediate and precise; each benchmarked for specific uses depending on the clients requirements. For each given stage all sorts of things can be calculated, modelled and forecasted; but be wary of how far you can go before you reach “crush depth”.

A great example of using the PARC or Motor Vehicle Census (MVC) data effectively is for trend analysis, something like modelling scrappage rates. This does require the use of multiple instances of the dataset for a sufficient date range going backward; and we did just that, we were able to accurately model the scrappage rates into the next decade, 2021 to be exact. On the other hand, if you plan on using the data to identify which makes and models are located in each post code along with their associated fuel type and build year, you should think twice. This data has a limitation, sure you can do an analysis solely based on this data but there is a much more accurate and ever more detailed way of doing this, it’s the approach we take when providing our range of automotive market research services which gives you access to information such as make, model, post code, body style, buyer type, demographic, segment, transmission, doors, cylinders, fuel type, driven wheels, engine power, engine capacity, CO2, fuel economy and whole a lot more.

There are some amazing things you can do with PARC, but if you or your supplier are using the data “as is” or surpassing its limitations whilst still expecting results you can trust, don’t hold your breath. So next time ask the question, can I trust my data?

Electric Car Market Now A Reality

A new solid-state battery technology based on the principles of quantum physics is said to reduce battery weight by over 2600%. Let’s put that into perspective, a typical 410kg lithium ion battery can now be replaced with a higher performing 15kg alternative? Yes, please!

Current developments are underway and all the thanks for the weight reduction can be given to engineers straying away from the fundamental chemically operated battery technologies. This allows numerous advantages which include unlimited charge & discharge cycles, no power leakage over time and a wider operating temperature range.

“Prototypes have been developed, tested, validated, improved, and capacity increased systematically since 2007. We are now in pre-production, preparing for low volume mass production. We are also looking for potential manufacturing partners, licensees, and JV partners to move into high volume mass production and address the market needs of specific targeted industries, of which one is automotive.” - Jim Uno, Company CEO of American Green Lights and Hachipa Inc.

We’re told there are no plans to sell this technology to companies that want to shelf the technology, it seems the best interests lie in delivering the technology to the masses, so how much is it going to cost? This is where it really gets exciting, half that of the traditional lithium ion batteries in small capacity devices and an extraordinary one fifth of the cost of high capacity devices. In terms of the automotive industry, this just made the idea of an electric car only market a reality.

The Battle To Improve Fuel Economy And Reduce Emissions

Non-renewable fuels, rising oil prices and a global increase in demand, it’s no secret that manufacturers are collectively spending billions of dollars on research & development to make their cars more efficient, but are they succeeding or are they just throwing money at a problem without a solution?

The answer is both yes and no. Take a step back and let’s put things into perspective, consumers hate compromising, they want everything and who can blame them? Look at the automotive industry 10 years ago; big cars, big cabins and big performance, each out doing their predecessor. Now look at our market today, smaller cars, similar cabin size, similar performance, increased safety features and more creature comforts than ever before. So what does this mean? Older cars - simple but big and heavy; new cars - complex but small and still quite heavy. How does this play into the hands of fuel economy? It doesn’t. Cars are required to become technologically packed to meet certain expectations consumers have when buying a new car. Although manufacturers have made leaps and bounds in engine and drive train efficiency development, this doesn’t reflect in the reduction of fuel consumption as it should.

For example: The 2011 Toyota Corolla Ascent hatch (1.8L petrol engine and manual transmission) has an official combined fuel economy of 7.3L per 100km. Go back ten years to 2001 and the Corolla Ascent hatch (also with a 1.8L petrol engine and manual transmission) also had an official combined fuel economy figure of 7.3L per 100kms. Why no drop in economy? Well consider the newer model is 14cm longer in wheelbase, 7cm wider and 13cm higher in dimensions. The new engine is 17% more powerful and overall the 2011 model is far safer with an airbag count of 6 compared to 1 just 10 years earlier. Add in other things such as larger wheels, wider tyres and bigger brakes and it’s easy to see why the kerb weight has increased by 165 kilograms with no change in fuel economy.

This said, consumers are now more educated than ever and are aware of how carbon emissions and fuel economy have an impact on the environment around them. This knowledge allows room for a shift in consumer behaviour, with the option of purchasing vehicles that significantly reduce their environmental impact and fuel consumption. The next decade will see the launch of a variety of new technologies to cater for this behavioural change, including petrol hybrids, diesel hybrids, LPG hybrids and even an onslaught of electric only vehicles. Our market intelligence makes note of the influence product availability has on driving consumer choices, and although it may be a major driving force towards the uptake of “greener” vehicles, it’s not the only one.

Australia is one of the most competitive automotive markets in the world, and some say that we’re already at a point of saturation – even with the increase of vehicle registrations on our roads. Most of the rapidly growing vehicle segments are price sensitive, meaning that the premium cost of more economical and environmentally friendly vehicles will have little to no impact on sales in these segments. If this continues to be the case, there will be a substantial lag factor. The ability for manufacturers to provide an affordable option to consumers is the key element to rapidly reducing our carbon footprint and influencing a demand change in non-renewable fuels.

Increasing pressures from governmental policies, both internationally and locally, is and will continue to play a major role in enforcing a change for manufacturers to deliver cost effective solutions, but it can’t stop there. More proactive measures need to be taken, market forecasts are a must and a planned roadmap to meet an agreed CO2 emission target somewhat 10 to 15 years from now needs to be signed off. The next few years are critical, and leave much to be answered before we can safely say; we’re on the right track.