Big ideas for big data: Three data-related sectors that startups could exploit

It seems that every company will soon be running their own big data projects, and this raises a problem: if everyone has big data technology, then no one has an advantage. Or so you might think. The solution is for end users to be creative in the way that they think about big data, thereby outsmarting their competitors with interesting and innovative applications of the technology. Here are some ideas for potential projects that go beyond the traditional parameters of big data. They may appeal to early-stage ventures looking for ways to stand out from the competition, as well as offering established businesses with some tasty food for thought.

Seasonal retail

Retailers always plan seasonally, with different stock and marketing campaigns to fit with the time of year – and the weather. Unfortunately, the British climate is rarely accommodating, and a big order of charcoal, firelighters and barbecue sauce will typically arrive in stores just as the first drops of a washout weekend begin to fall.

Analysing weather patterns and predicting periods of unseasonal weather could enable canny retailers to alter their stock accordingly, reducing wastage and ensuring they have plenty of strawberries, Pimms and ice cream during those freak periods of hot weather in early spring or late autumn.

Network performance analysis

Most organisations with large numbers of customers will already have a big data application in place, usually to analyse and profile users' behaviour so that they increase retention and satisfaction. Telco firms are no exception and where they can gain real value and differentiation could be to use the technology to analyse customers' experience around service and network performance.

By analysing customers' communication usage – such as download amounts, connection speeds and the times of day they use the service – telecommunications providers can gain insight into how their service is performing nationally, regionally and even for individual customers. Add unstructured data into the mix – such as any complaints they receive, or comments on blogs or social networks – and they can also gain access to a treasury of information about how their users perceive their services. Armed with accurate metrics and information on consumers' perception, providers will be expertly placed to respond to the needs, demands and complaints of their customers.

Fraud management

Managing fraud applies to both the public and private sector. For example, an insurance company will rely on data to manage claims, whilst within the public sector, insight will be gained to uncover possible benefit fraud at the time of application.

Regardless of sector, mitigating risk is one of the chief goals of many big data projects, whether it's for analysing the market for commercial threats or identifying weaknesses within an organisation's own operations.

Big data can help with fraud prevention by analysing, in real-time, vast quantities of transactions. Combined with automated processes that identify and give an immediate warning about a suspected fraudulent transaction, big data can give powerful protection to financial organisations and other enterprises.

These are just three examples of how big data can be harnessed in different ways. End users will get the most success from the technology not by aping their rivals, but by applying it to new and original situations that are specifically relevant to their business and their strategy. In other words, success depends not on big data technology, but on the specific insight that it provides. Get that right, and businesses will win an advantage over their competitors.

Adrian Simpson is Chief Innovation Officer for the UK and Ireland at enterprise software solutions specialist SAP. He has been at the company for over 10 years working on the rollout of new technologies.