There seems to be no limit to the types of industries that technologies such as big data can disrupt and innovate. In January, that became apparent to the U.S. Postal Service during an international online forum — recapped in a brief released today — exploring how the agency could benefit from big data initiatives.
Citing the declining cost of data collection and storage and the revolutionary new tools developing to leverage metrics, the USPS Office of Inspector General and the Universal Postal Union, along with other industry leaders, discussed what big data meant to postal carriers and identified how units are already using it and how they can expand upon it in the future.
Like many breakthroughs in innovation, the exact definition of big data often differs from person to person. For the sake of a productive discussion on postal carriers leveraging the technology, participants first tackled what big data meant to them, before reaching a common interpretation.
“Big data is about adopting new technologies that enable the storage, processing and analysis of data that was previously ignored,” said Adam Houck, an advanced-analytics managing consultant with IBM Business Consulting Services. Additionally, Houck and the other participants concluded big data differs from traditional data in three key ways: its volume, the velocity at which it’s produced and the variety of data sources from which it originates.
Understanding what they believed to be big data, the postal experts began brainstorming how to best implement the technology in their industry. Discussants offered ideas such as private-public partnerships and leveraging existing data before moving on to bigger projects.
To Mohammad Adra, assistant inspector general for the Risk Analysis Research Center at the USPS OIG Office, this meant adding tools such as sensors to take advantage of the untapped data his agency already has stored.
“There is no lack of postal data — it is already big,” he said. “Let’s start to address the imbalance between the plethora of data and the paucity of analysis, and extract value out of it.”
The Internet of Things’ convergence with big data became a major theme of the discussions at the forum. Along with it, participants also keyed in on the need to transform their organizations into data-driven ones and learn from the best practices of other successful postal operators.
Participants concluded the discussion by agreeing big data is an emerging reality bigger than the hype it’s currently facing in an array of different industries. And while the organizations are eager to implement new tools and practices to harness the power of big data, they also understand things are just getting started and the best model to do so may still be unfolding.