Big Data: Bangladesh in a Parallel World

LightCastle Analytics Wing
November 12, 2013
Big Data: Bangladesh in a Parallel World

Author: Narmin Tartila, Senior Lecturer, Department of Marketing & International Business at North South University.

Motahar heaves a small sigh of relief. His truck, supposedly carrying a ton of sand, has smoothly sailed through the first check post. There had been two thorough checks in the past week. Based on experience, Motahar knew there will be none today. He is confident that the final check post would be a breeze. He could safely pass off his package to his counterparts on the other side of the border.

A few miles away, Inspector Arif’s computer beeped. He noticed that the Tamabil border, between Bangladesh and India, had turned red, indicating a high crime probability. Arif spoke into the button on his collar. ‘Unit 103, please conduct a thorough check of each truck in the Tamabil border area, I repeat, each truck.’

Motahar’s truck is one of the 67 vehicles that went through a thorough check. Five women in their late teens recovered. Motahar is arrested. Police are interrogating the women to reconcile them with their families. The investigation is in full swing to uncover other members of the human trafficking syndicate.

What went on in the background of Arif’s computer was a complex algorithm. The algorithm picked up info from Motahar’s credit card usage, phone calls, and email correspondence. It beaded the data together and superimposed the information on a probability map predicting where the suspect might be moving to.

What is Big Data?

Data that is either very big, growing very fast, or contains much variety such as unstructured data. As of 2012, every day, 2.5 quintillions (2.5×1018) bytes of data were created. Emailing, uploading photos and videos on social media, and making online purchases – all contribute to this overwhelming amount of data. You and I are both a part of it.

Gartner, the eminent IT research and advisory firm, uses the terms Volume, Velocity, and Variety to describe this technology concept.

Data is churned out every day. However, you need analytics to make sense of what the data indicates and what trends it signals. Entities smart enough to utilize the concept are becoming productive and efficient by being able to respond in real time.

In the hypothetical situation depicted in the opening, big data is playing a key role in helping law enforcers. They can take a proactive step to avert a crime. Otherwise, they would have to keep following the traditional approach of responding/reacting to a crime.

Benefits of Big Data

In California, IBM, along with research universities, is already using Big Data & Analytics to predict outbreaks of dengue and malaria with the aim to understand the spread of the disease in real time and deploy public resources more efficiently. By closely monitoring variables like changes in rainfall, temperature, and soil acidity and merging the information with other data, like airport and highway traffic, the team is working on a better understanding of outbreaks.

Closer to home, Vietnam’s fourth-largest city Da Nang had signed a contract with IBM to install a traffic management system. Software and sensors embedded in roads, highways, and buses will control traffic lights to minimize traffic jams. Commuters will be able to see bus arrival times. They will also gain information on the crowd situation on buses via video screens and mobile apps.

UN’s Global Pulse Initiative has been carrying out predictive disaster relief in Indonesia. They were caught in a discussion on Twitter regarding whether vaccines are halal. If the discussions blew out of proportion and people became convinced that vaccines contain pork products, then they would opt to avoid vaccinating children who would end up paralyzed. UN’s Global Pulse is currently working on capturing consumer sentiments early on to take preemptive measures before misinformed situations spiral out of control.

Bangladesh and Big Data

Consider the benefits Big Data can bring to a company in an emerging market, manufacturing consumer packaged goods. The challenge for these companies, just like companies elsewhere, is to understand consumer sentiments. What are the buying trends? What are the users speaking about? Do they like our new brand? What modifications would make the brand more appealing to them? – These could be potential questions they ask. And the methods the emerging-market-based companies use to extract insights can be as primitive as manually collecting information based on sales forces’ observation, reading retailer receipts, and delving into shipment figures. Imagine the kind of information-mine Big Data & Analytics can offer by tapping into the expanding social media landscape and presenting actionable reports out of all the unstructured data floating around.

Imagine the groundbreaking possibilities of innovation. For a brand manager, her device would prompt her to brand a certain aisle based on measurements of customer footfall and the mean time spent. The device would also give indications on what kind of consumer promotion to carry out depending on customer sentiments.

What frontiers would such innovations open up for the healthcare front in Bangladesh? There were 1,362 dengue cases in 2011. Imagining the possibility of predicting dengue outbreaks by location and eliminating the virus before it can wreak havoc.

Adoption in Bangladesh

In a country of 160 million people and 3.5% internet penetration, big data holds significant potential. Moreover, key drivers catalyzing big data adoption are all present in Bangladesh. Quick adoption of online platforms such as, the proliferation of smartphones, and the consumerization of 3G technology – all indicate the onset of a Big Data era where data will increase in volume, with increasing velocity and variety.

The private sector will obviously be an early adopter before the government embraces it. Zooming into the private sector, who do you presume would be the key decision-makers? Who would spearhead the concept of mining big data for insights?

Across the Asia Pacific, recent trends suggest that technology is increasingly moving out of the realms of IT departments and CIOs. In 2016, 80% of new IT investments will involve a Line of Business Executives. Heads of Marketing, for instance, will have a bigger say than CIOs on what technology to adopt for better measurement of churn rate and gaining insight into loyalty figures.

Privacy Concerns with Big Data

The big data wave also brings with it a threat to privacy. If someone uses Facebook to “check in” at a resort in St. Martin, that would mean she is not at home. While a company can cherry-pick this information and subject the vacationer to a procession of advertisement offers, a terrorist could plan something far more detrimental. And our vacationer would not be fond of either situation – both constitute a breach of privacy.

However, when this very same person is purchasing a camera on Amazon, and the website prompts her with a list of other useful materials (such as camera cover, battery, or memory card) purchased by customers with profiles similar to hers, she would be more than willing to browse for more information. Moreover, for fields such as scientific research, public health, national security, and law enforcement, which play a key role in ensuring a safe and secure life for the populace, big data mining is surely not a crime.

Gartner predicts that through 2016 –

  • 25% of organizations using consumer data will face reputational damage due to insufficient understanding of information trust issues
  • 20% of CIOs in regulated industries will lose their jobs for failing to implement the discipline of information governance successfully

The key is to demarcate the zone between utilizing big data for bringing social good for the majority vs. exploiting the data mine for data receivers’ benefits at the data providers’ cost. The good news is, by the time the big data wave crashes onto the IT shores of Bangladesh, there will be enough use case scenarios in the world to help formulate/enhance our own local data privacy laws.

Endless Possibilities in Big Data

Imagine Bangladesh, emphatically one of the world’s densely populated countries, where nearly 100% of the population is Facebook literate, has a credit card, and regularly transacts online. Let us imagine that the infrastructure has been built and the bureaucracy has been thinned out to enable the growth of IT companies. This still-mythical hyper-connected and digitized land of Lalon could finally bid farewell to epidemics, weed out traffickers, gain a far more efficient private-sector cogwheel and enjoy a host of other real-time miracles by standing on the shoulders of Big Data & Analytics.

WRITTEN BY: LightCastle Analytics Wing

At LightCastle, we take a data-driven approach to create opportunities for growth and impact. We consult and collaborate with development partners, the public sector, and private organizations to promote inclusive economic growth that positively changes the lives of people at scale. Being a data-driven and transparent organization, we believe in democratizing knowledge and information among the stakeholders of the economy to drive inclusive growth.

For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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