France’s Big Ambitions for "Big Data" : No. 18, July 2014

The volume of computer data generated worldwide is set to double every 18 months until 2020. IT and digital services companies are developing and implementing powerful computers to respond to strong demand for storage and processing of massive quantities of data, more widely known as "Big Data". The aim is to manage the exponential growth of an enormous volume of information, and France is well placed in this fast-growing sector.

Major economic stakes

According to a study by the consultancy EMC, data produced worldwide grew from 1.2 zettabytes in 2010 (1 zettabyte representing 1021 bytes) to 2.8 zettabytes in 2012, and could total 40 zettabytes by 2020. That astronomic quantity of data can take the form of text, images and statistics.

France’s excellent research and teaching

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Since 2012, the French public authorities, mindful of the development of the digital economy, have been mobilizing French specialists in Big Data. Two major French public education establishments, Institut Mines-Télécom and the Groupe des Écoles Nationales d’Économie et Statistique (GENES), have combined their skills to address this ambitious challenge, under the name TeraLab. This body aims to address the needs of researchers, teaching staff and businesses as quickly as possible, to develop knowledge and innovation in the area. Research and innovation in the digital field of Big Data also needs to be speeded up, and the talents needed for tomorrow’s trades need to be prepared.

Mathematics are a key field for Big Data and the France is a leader. France has more than 1000 researchers and many national and international distinctions. Through the Paris Fondation Sciences Mathématiques, France counts the greatest concentration of mathematicians worldwide. The Foundation initiates and funds programmes to attract the international elite, trains tomorrow’s mathematicians and brings research to a level of excellence.

Major change is already in motion

In the digital services sector, French provider Atos is one of the 10 largest market players, with an annual turnover of close to €9 billion and more than 75,000 staff in 52 countries. It is known for its innovative solutions and the outsourced management of corporate IT systems. Its international customer base covers every business sector. The company’s CEO recently announced a project to acquire the French IT manufacturer Bull, in order to create a Europe-based world leader in cloud solutions, cybersecurity and big data. By combining Bull’s expertise with its own, Atos hopes to create a unique integrated offer in the fast-growing sector of data storage and analysis.

According to Henri de Castries, CEO of Axa, the digital transition and Big Data are also set to strongly impact the insurance sector and customer relations. Big Data should enable the development of new tools for monitoring of epidemiological trends based on data from connected devices. All information concerning policy holders is currently scattered, and Axa plans to collect it in databases designed to combine and analyse it. By better assessing the risks that need covering, the insurer could offer its customers suitable prices, taking into account each individual’s specific data.

High value-added applications

How can advertisers further increase their visibility and commercial performance? The service Criteo, which refocuses advertising based on the browsing metadata of web users, is working successfully with more than 4000 customers around the world. When a web user leaves the shopping site of an advertiser, the latter can send the shopper a more or less personalized message on another site to ensure that the potential customer returns to the advertiser. Established eight years ago, the company is quoted on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and reports annual turnover of €400 million.

Another good example of an application for Big Data processing is sport. As the pay of players increases and competitions become more media focused, sport clubs and media outlets have understood that they need an objective assessment of champion’s achievements. The expertise of the company Amisco, which recently joined forces with the British Prozone, in the processing and analysis of data, is having a great deal of success. Cameras placed on the competition site film and calculate the position of each player 25 times per second and operators index each movement. "More than 3 million data points can be collected by our system during a single meeting", says Antoine David, Managing Director of the company, which already works with more than 200 sport clubs and many media organizations.

The link between a decisive pass from one of Paris-Saint-Germain’s (PSG) centre forwards and a customer service announcement sent to your smartphone may seem tenuous. But it is there.

Marco Rangi

publie le 04/08/2014

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