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Beer, Building, and Big Data

9/18/2013 at 2:17 pm by

At the University of Wisconsin, two researchers are working on a more efficient way for people and machines to categorize and process big data using beer as their test subject. Yes, you read right. It just so happens that there is a lot of big data out there around the refreshing topic of beer.

The Wisconsin researchers gathered their data from Ratebeer.com. Looking at around 10,000 beers with at least 50 reviews each, they identified similarities between the different beers based on flavor, color, taste, and other characteristics used to describe beers in online reviews.  Using that existing big data, the researchers created an experimental app that asks you to first select from several beer comparisons and then predicts what other beers you might like. (Too bad the app was only created for this research!)

Just like beer, construction has its own big data. Think about all the information now generated from emails, digital job site photos and video, electronic RFIs and RFQs, voice mail messages, and more—not to mention millions of data points connected to building information models (BIM). In fact, big data is getting bigger. According to IMEX Research in its 2011 Big Data Industry Report, data and content will grow 44 times during this decade alone.

Yet big data is still a relatively new concept in construction circles. In a recent survey conducted by Sage, only 13% of construction professionals were familiar with the term. That percentage will likely increase, however, as new technology helps us get our arms around big data, providing us with greater analytical capabilities. And that will give construction firms a better way to benchmark, conduct risk analysis, and predict what will happen next.

What exactly is big data?  In short it refers to sets of data that are too massive for traditional database management tools to capture and process in a reasonable amount of time.  As you can see from the beer and construction examples above, big data has three common characteristics:

  • Volume—Refers to the enormous amount of data now available.
  • Velocity—Illustrates the speed in which we want the data to be analyzed. (I want that beer recommendation in seconds, not days.)
  • Variety—Describes the different types of data that is collected: text, audio, video, web logs, and more.

Essentially big data brings together large amounts of data from multiple sources, extracts the relevant information, and makes correlations between data types to quickly identify trends and make predictions.  Big data is also spurring the need for data visualization, process simulation, and other technologies that will make the data super easy to understand. The beer app, for example, displays a heat map illustrating the styles of beer you might like.

For more information about big data in construction, check out our e-book, Four Tech Trends That are Reshaping the Construction Industry.

And since I’ve brought up the topic of beer, what is your favorite? Take our poll just for fun:

photo credit: Foto Pau via photopincc

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About the Author

Deb Carpenter-Beck is a writer and marketer with more than 25 years of experience in the construction and real estate industries. She often writes about technology and best practices and is passionate about helping contractors and real estate professionals achieve their business goals. You can follow her on Twitter @SageDebCB.

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