This is the 7th and last post in our series ‘Real-time Data Visualization.’ In this post, we briefly trace the history of real-time analytics, and then move on to identifying 7 overarching trends that will influence the way we use real-time data in the future. One of the earliest applications of real-time analytics was in manufacturing plants to monitor the performance and health of their systems in real-time. Data like temperature, weight, and volume were monitored by sensors embedded at strategic points in a manufacturing system. These sensors would update monitoring dashboards in real-time, giving visibility and control over the performance, and output. Not just in systems, but RFID technology and surveillance cameras drastically increased the  applications of real-time analytics in security, and human resource allocation in these manufacturing plants. It would be only a matter of time till this kind of recording of real world information was made possible outside the manufacturing, and industrial sectors.

The Internet of Things

Smart Things Timeline Today, we see a wave of connected devices that are flooding the consumer market, and throwing open new doors of opportunity for consumers and businesses alike. Makes us wonder what the future of real-time analytics holds for us. Here are 7 trends that could turn out to be defining factors as the future of real-time analytics unfolds:

1. The Internet of Things will grow in leaps and bounds

In the past two decades, the explosion of data across the internet is largely credited to the availability of devices like digital cameras, and mobile phones. However, this is just the begining. Gartner estimates 20B connected devices by 2020, a 30-fold increase from what we see today. We’ve already seen successful products from Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, and Jawbone Up, which offer a variety of wearable devices that capture data about a user’s physical activity in real-time. Smart devices are even invading our home in the form of smart TVs, and other connected home appliances. The interest isn’t restricted to just the consumer electronics companies, even Google with their Google Glass, and self-driving cars are pushing the limits of what devices can do for us. Apple has a rumoured iWatch product in the pipeline, and some companies are betting on robots being our personal assistants of the future. All these devices, while assisting us in our daily lives, will add to the amount of real-time data available. This has raised privacy concerns by some, but the opportunities it presents are too alluring to avoid.

2. Consumer technology has a boomerang effect on businesses

At the start of this post we saw how real-time technology has its origins in manufacturing businesses, after which it trickled down to the consumer space, particularly with mobile phones. However, what we’re seeing now, with the advent of the social web, and explosion of connected devices is a reversal of that trend. Consumer technology is changing the way we do business. Work culture is being changed by policies like ‘Bring your own device’, and enterprise applications that are borrowing design principles from popular consumer applications. Companies are embracing social media platforms for their sales, marketing, support, recruiting, and other key functions. Even traditional B2B platforms like SalesForce have been expanding their offerings to embrace the social web.

3. Automation will become mainstream

IFTTT We’ve only seen the beginning of connected devices that can perform user-specified tasks. For example, Spotter can be programmed to send an alert via SMS or email if there’s a change in temperature of an appliance. IFTTT, a popular automation tool, makes it extremely easy to specify ‘if this then that’ functions on some of our most commonly used apps like Gmail, Evernote, Twitter, and Facebook. This sort of technology, though in its infancy now, is set to grow exponentially in the coming years. Increasingly, we’ll see this trend pick up pace in business scenarios as well. Big data technologies will allow businesses to crunch huge volumes of data to execute specific functions automatically. Personalized marketing campaigns, laser-focussed sales pitches, and intuitive support are some of the business applications of this technology.

4. Big data technologies make real-time analytics more accessible

Hadoop is known for batch processing large data sets, but has been too slow for the demanding needs of real-time analytics. However, with Hadoop 2.0, YARN makes the platform even more extensible, opening it up to work with real-time technologies. We’re already seeing the community endorse Storm, making it a default of the Hadoop platform. This trend is just getting started, and in the coming years we can expect multiple options for companies of all sizes and types to employ real-time systems.

5. Agile approach in reporting

GeckoBoard Businesses will realize that the big data revolution is not really about the technology, but about the change in culture and mindset. This will push them to re-think how they access, process, and use data. Rather than build the one all-encompassing tool that handles all data, the norm will be to let the tools serve the purpose. We’re already seeing signs of that with real-time aggregation dashboards like Geckoboard. Executives will awaken to the possibility of accessing data using flexible methods in a way that wasn’t possible before.

6. Move from real-time to right-time analytics

The advancement of technology will push the limits on what’s possible, but on the downside, it obscures what’s really necessary. The paradox of choice. Businesses will be averse to data overload, and demand more from real-time applications. The focus will shift from not just reporting data in real-time, to reporting it at the right time and the right way, making it actionable and useful.

7. Data literacy increases

Google’s Hal Varian believes that data science is set to be the sexy job in the next ten years. VC’s have noticed the potential in data startups. All this points to data moving from being an optional luxury to a mainstream necessity in business and consumer applications. This means that users will become more literate, and demanding of an application’s data capabilities. Rather than regular text and numbers, users will demand delightful visualizations, and interactive experiences to get more from their data. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these trends will last, and which will fade away. But hopefully, you see that whatever direction the future takes, real-time data is going to play an important part in the way we work, and the way we live. If you enjoyed this read, do get our white paper titled ‘The Ultimate Guide to Real-time Data Visualization.’ It discusses the topic in more detail, complete with real-world examples, and specific guidelines for choosing a real-time charting solution.

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