Smart gadgets like wearable technology and in-car monitoring will drive business models which don't even exist yet in the future, a major conference in Belfast has been told.
Speakers from firms like IBM, SAP, Fujitsu and PwC were among the 100 experts attending the Big Data Insights day at Titanic Belfast, part of Big Data Week, which will see events take place around the world in London, LA, Kuala Lumpur, Washington, Berlin, Lagos and Madrid.
Padraic Sheerin, who leads a team of data scientists at Allstate in Belfast, which provides IT services to the US insurer, said that new forms of technology will help redefine how the company does business.
"In future there will be sensors attached to everything we use, even our bodies," he said during a panel discussion.
"These wearable technologies will drive business models that don't yet exist.
"With mobile phone apps, you used to buy them and they belong to you. Now you get them for free and people advertise to you while you are using them.
"In my own industry, there are now in-car monitoring systems and mobile applications which track how you drive, which we have already rolled out in the USA to hundreds of thousands of customers, and it could be a gamechanger.
"We can now formulate a premium or a quote on how you drive, your speed, your braking, as opposed to your age or where you live – it will change how we price products, it will improve driving habits."
The term 'big data' refers to the technologies and practice of handling data so large that conventional databases cannot handle them efficiently, while analysis of the details extracted from big data helps inform many global companies in honing their business models.
With companies like Google and Facebook using data analysis to direct advertising to users, speakers said that big data is important to companies building aeroplanes, formulating new medicines or calculating an insurance quote. The market for the sector is set to reach $16.1bn (£9.6bn) this year, growing six times faster than the overall IT market.
Mark Lewis of US firm Cloudera, which provides a platform for data analysis tools, told the conference that the analysis of big data has applications in every sector imaginable.
"Big data isn't always big, but it is always data," he said.
"And the concept of big data is nothing new. It is hundreds of years old, we just have better ways of collating and analysing information now and using it to make intelligent decisions.
"Companies can use this data to improve customer service, improve their product or to identify new markets. The sources of information are now so diverse that it's important not to miss key information.
"It's been said that some of the best brains in the world are being employed just to get you to click on an advertisement but we know that big data is much more important than that.
"Many smaller companies see data analysis as being too complex or too much of a cost, but they also need to realise what returns they can make."