According to a story in USA Today, Danny Kennedy and Andrew Birch talked about all the valuable free data Microsoft and Google float out on the Internet. In particular, they wondered if they could tap into the tech giants' mapping services to remotely design rooftop solar energy systems using satellite images and aerial photos.
Turns out they could. Four years after that "aha" moment, Kennedy and Birch operate Sungevity, a thriving solar energy firm with 100 employees involved in designing residential solar energy systems in three states – without leaving the company's Oakland office.
They're doing it using modern business intelligence, or BI. Analyzing large sets of data to rev up business operations is as old as arithmetic. But two big variables have changed. First, the sheer volume of data amassed over the past decade is not just unprecedented, it's mind-boggling.
This year the amount of digital information created and replicated is expected to hit an astounding 1.2 zettabytes. That's 1 trillion gigabytes, enough data to fill a stack of DVDs reaching from Earth to the moon and back, according to researcher IDC. That number will approach 35 zettabytes by 2020; picture a stack of DVDs reaching halfway to Mars.
Second, the general populace has become tech savvy. Most people are at ease surfing the Internet and using mobile devices. Combine the two variables, and you find BI exploding on several fronts.
At a grass-roots level, building inspectors, real estate agents, law enforcers and entrepreneurs dreaming up unique start-ups are tapping public data and doing simple correlations that give them an edge.
Photo by Google Maps.