You might be most familiar with real-time data and analytics in the context of dynamic business trends, the stock market and financial applications. After all, these scenarios require a real-time data feed in order to make decisions quickly, be pro-active and maintain the ability to stay ahead of the game. However, the reality is, many of us rely on real-time data all the time and in many forms. We are often so reliant on what the data tells us that we easily ignore how the data is collected, how frequently, where it came from and how it is ultimately presented to us. For example, weather data is critical information that is available to the public, all the time, as summarized in this quick report from the NWS (Albuquerque, NM):
….nearly every member of the population uses weather data on a regular basis. By thinking of how weather can affect your travel, activity, and business decisions, the list of uses and users becomes longer.
But consider this: how useful would weather data be if it always came a week, or even a day late? Imagine the effects on the economy, public safety, health and infrastructure if we were not able to observe upcoming weather systems and subsequently make projections on what is likely to happen, in near real-time.
The value of real-time data is not limited to weather or the stock market. Let’s look at why real-time data is so important:
1) Changes happen quickly. We must be proactive.
This may seem fairly obvious: if you have the right information in front of you, you can respond immediately and appropriately. Without the information in front of you, you may miss the boat or respond inadequately.
Think about ice roads in Northern Alaska: Data is collected throughout an ice road route and transmitted in real-time, to be interpreted by state agencies. In turn, agencies issue permits to exploration companies that grant tundra travel, based on in-situ conditions. The ability to monitor the entire ice road route remotely and gain a work permit allows the exploration company to act as soon as tundra conditions permit. The result is considerable savings of time and money, a more productive season and the assurance that conditions are safe and appropriate for travel.
What does this scenario look like if real-time data is not available? To begin with, data is collected by hand, resulting in:
- Inconsistent data points, due to collection by various different field personnel at sporadic times.
- A substantial time gap between when the data is collected to when it is actually compiled and interpreted.
- Potential data loss due to objective hazards and inability to monitor performance of equipment, which leads to our next point . . .
2) Confirmation of data acquisition is key.
Most field-work campaigns are costly, incurring expenses from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for travel, room and board, equipment and personnel.
Let’s say your field campaign warrants an expense of $100,000, in order to gather data. With data loggers set up to log data, your plan is to return and collect the data from the loggers that will drive your feasibility study. However, upon your arrival, 6 months later, you find that the logger only logged for a week before unexpected flooding at your field site fried the instrument’s sensitive circuitry.
You can do a quick cost comparison between the cost of a telemetry feed and a second trip to your field site, but the answer is clear when you consider how many feasibility projects are dead in the water because 20 minutes after installation, the field crew flew away in the helicopter and no one knew what was happening at the site until they revisited it a year later.
These situations not only waste valuable time and resources, but can seriously impede a project’s start date. Further, reputations are at stake – if only they had a live feed of the data!
3) We cannot succeed when there is an unknown interruption in the data feed.
Real-time data also allows us to respond if/when we see interesting changes in the phenomenon that we are observing. But, we can also decide whether or not to take action if the feed is disrupted when instrumentation is exposed to an objective hazard. With real-time data we give ourselves a choice:
- We already have a sufficient amount of usable data and can address any issues when we revisit the site during the next scheduled trip, or
- We are just heading into an important data gathering season and we need to capture the transition to make our case. Let’s take steps to troubleshoot the problem and re-establish the data feed.
4) We achieve optimal success when we save valuable resources: time, money and reputation.
With tight budgets, it’s important to make the most of project resources, namely time and money. Thus, a loss of data could compromise your ability to do so, along with your reputation, if project results are compromised.
Ensure project success and save resources; don’t just get your data, get it in real-time.