Pulitzer-nominated business journalist and author Russ Banham has written about Big Data analytics in all kinds of industries, from healthcare and insurance to trucking and retail. Now he is bringing his message to agriculture.
Banham, who has written for Forbes, Wall Street Journal, The Economist and other business journals and has authored more than 20 books, was a keynote speaker at the AMC Engineering Conference held last week in Waterloo, IA. Banham talked to agricultural machinery engineers about the benefits of Big Data and why all businesses, including farming, need to be onboard.
“So why is it important?,” he asks. “Big Data and predictive analytics yield insight, and insight is everything in running a business. In today’s extremely competitive and blisteringly fast-paced global business environment, the company able to extract insight quicker than its competitors is the winner.”
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Banham describes Big Data as millions of data sets that can come in different forms. Some of it is propriety. Some of it is not. Sources include customer databases, consumer demographics, geopolitical, cultural and social trends, handwritten notes, and even posts on Facebook.
“The goal is to get as much data as possible and extract insight by funneling it into algorithms,” Banham says. “So what are algorithms? “
He describes algorithms as a set of rules or instructions that, when inputted in a computer, are able to sift through information and keep what is useful, while discarding that which is not. A common use of algorithms is in spam filters, for example, which use key words and source codes to filter junk emails.
“Those algorithms sift the wheat from chaff and provide businesses with information of great utility to make better forecasts with regard to, for example, selling products, exiting or entering different markets, or engaging in new sales territories.”
Banham highlighted different industries that have used predictive analytics to make better business decisions. The examples include healthcare, finance, insurance, transportation, retail sales, and even sports facilities (see gallery). He's written articles on each of these for Forbes and Wall Street Journal.
Based on his interviews with hundreds of companies, Banham says everyone in the value chain can benefit from Big Data and advanced data analytics. Operations can be more efficient, workforces can be more productive, and customers can be more satisfied because they are getting products they want.
But, he adds, too many companies are still sitting on the fence waiting to see if there is a payoff. He then cites a well-known business quote: “Firms that don’t modernize stagnate.”
Not to say there aren’t some challenges with implementation. One challenge is change, which Banham says is hard for companies to do. Those struggling will need to implement some form of “change management,” which puts a system in place for adoption. Usually this involves appointing someone inside the organization to head up the change and champion the technology.
Another challenge is operational. Not everyone has access to the same information. “A lot of data resides in silos and in different departments,” he says. “There needs to be a centralized fulcrum where all the data can be shared so that one department can gain insight into other departments and into the entire enterprise and beyond the enterprise to the extended supply chain.”
“I know all of this seems too good to be true,” adds Banham. “Just push a button and you’ll be smart. But I can promise you, if you don’t give data analytics some deep consideration, you’ll run the risk of falling behind your competitors. They will already have realized there are substantial business opportunities by investing in these technologies, and you will be caught, potentially, with a loss of market share as a result.
“Data analytics is the game changer of today,” he adds. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
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