Sensor Data Expands Possibilities for BI

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In the business intelligence world, all eyes are on sensor data. This refers to the tiny recordings and transmissions in everything from the step counters in a FitBit or Jawbone to the thermostats in the Google-acquired Nest product or the beeps sent from a smart car. It's Disney's MagicBands—wristbands that track users through Disney theme parks, serving as room keys, charge accounts, and express passes to rides.

Though a very small minority of businesses—maybe 5 percent—are taking advantage of sensor data, according to Frank Buytendijk, vice president at Gartner Research, personal analytics was a hot topic at the company's Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit in Las Vegas in early April.

While certain sources of personal analytics, such as fitness counters, are already becoming widespread, the number of connected devices will soon multiply. Disposable diapers that beep when they need changing, contact lenses that can measure glucose levels for diabetics, and shirts that measure heart rates are just some products that could be more common in the future, Buytendijk says.

They're also popular in machines: Rolls Royce jet engines transmit data about performance via satellite, a fact that recently came to light when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in the Indian Ocean.

Consumers who use devices such as FitBits have access to all their data, but they might not realize that the data of their quantified self is often accessible to third parties. "There's a general best practice right now that whoever measures the data owns it. If a doctor takes that X ray, the doctor owns that X ray," Buytendijk says, though he notes that could change.

Disney has reportedly spent more than $1 billion on the MyMagic+ program, which will give the company a more granular view of its customers than ever before. At the SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, Ed Gaffin, director of marketing analytics for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, gave attendees a peek into the staggering amount of data that Disney already collects about its customers. It includes transactions and times of year a person visits, and is melded with other external data, such as weather and economic forecasts. Disney marketers know to send a mailer with a roller coaster attraction only to households with older children, for example, using data to deliver personalized, targeted experiences.

MyMagic+, though still in its early days, will be a rich addition to the data already available. However, Disney knows that whatever it takes from customers, it will have to deliver in return: Customers expect better, more seamless experiences in return for wearing the wristbands, and Disney fans are watching closely to see how MagicBands affect the park experience.

Even these fans express some concerns over the knowledge Disney will hold with these bands.

Ultimately, the type of data that businesses have on their customers will also be available to individual consumers. A single person might run analysis on himself similar to what a business might run on its customers. "Things are moving from business analytics to personal analytics. There's a new market for all kinds of analytical applications, not in the hands of business, but in the hands of the consumers," Buytendijk concludes.

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