Definition of big data

Big data is the term used to describe the huge volumes of data generated by traditional business activities and from new sources such as social media. Typical big data includes information from store point-of-sale terminals, bank ATMs, Facebook posts and YouTube videos.

Companies use sophisticated software to analyse this data looking for hidden patterns, trends or other insights that they can use to better tailor their products and services to customers, anticipate demand or improve performance.

Companies and other organisations, including governments, have for many years been collecting, and slowly sifting through so-called structured data. These are data, like a sales ledger, that are already well-organised and therefore relatively easy to process.

But more recently, there has been an explosion in the amount of ‘unstructured’ data like video clips or facebook posts. Their lack of an identifiable structure makes them much more difficult to analyse, but these information promise to provide the most valuable insights for a company. For example, Facebook posts could tell brands what consumers think of their products. [1]

In depth: big data
FT explainer: The rise of big data