What is Big Data and 4 Reasons Why it is so Important

Big Data is one of the new terms that we hear regularly these days along with “Internet of Things” (IOT), “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), and “Cloud Computing”. Interestingly, when you Google the term, you can read a wide variety of definitions – which is not unexpected considering how new the concept is!

In this article, I would like to try to provide a simple understanding of the concept from a technical point of view.

One of the best definitions I encountered is this one: “any voluminous amount of structuredsemi-structured, and unstructured data that has the potential to be mined for information”.

This definition will make more sense when we compare it with how data was traditionally handled. For old developers like myself, useful data always meant structured tables of data organized in relational databases.  It enabled you to do meaningful searches and display the results in a useful format – like what you see in CRM or ERP applications you daily use. But as the above definition describes, the Big Data is now about big volumes of data that are not necessarily structured in tables of databases.

Why is Big Data mentioned now?

The first question that arises after reading the above lines would probably be: What has changed in the past couple of years that has made Big Data so important?

In my opinion, there are 3 main reasons:

  1. Advance of Artificial Intelligence technologies: masses of unstructured data have always been available – they are the source for any structured data! One of the main reasons we have been organizing such data into structured databases over the past few decades has been the lack of search and data mining algorithms. Finding and presenting the data in a meaningful and useful way is a complicated process that would require very sophisticated programming algorithms. However, these sophisticated programming algorithms are now available.
  2. Advances in computer hardware: storing high volumes of data, searching through them, and accessing useful data on a timely manner calls for advanced computer hardware that enables super-fast data access and very high-speed processing power. Such hardware was not widely available a decade ago.
  3. Advances of the Internet: there is no doubt that the invention of the Internet has been one of the most important events of the 20th During the 21st century, the internet has constantly provided connectivity at higher speeds with more mobility. The result is an access to an incredible amount of unstructured data from all over the world in the form of videos, pictures, text, and codes.
  4. Increased amount of data: this is usually referred to as the three ‘V’s – Volume, Velocity, and Variety. The volume of data, the speed it is becoming available, and the variety of the data has simply made traditional methods of structuring them impossible!

As the world becomes more connected, not only do we face a huge growth of man-created data, but also an exponentially increasing amount of data created by machines. Some examples of such machines are:

  • CCTV Cameras: there are an increasing number of constant streaming videos captured from CCTV cameras. The volume of data created by CCTV cameras would simply not enable any timely analysis by humans. It is also not possible to “structure” them in any meaningful way.
  • IOT sensors: it is expected that there would be over 20 billion IOT devices by 2020. Each of these devices would be constantly creating data. The variety of devices and hence the data they create would again call for the “Big Data” solution.
  • Network Equipment Logs: network switches, routers, security appliances, servers, and other network equipment each create their different logs which again is a huge amount of useful data, if it can be analyzed efficiently.


We’re obviously at the verge of a new technological revolution which would be known by the emergence of robots, artificial intelligence, IOT devices, virtual reality, auto-driven vehicles, and many other great technologies. But at the core of this revolution is the “data” and how it can be analyzed efficiently and intelligently. “Big Data” is the concept for making that happen and includes technologies on how to store such volumes of data, and more importantly how to extract the required information efficiently from it.

6 IoT Applications that Improved People’s Lives in Africa – A Story of 6 Countries

As explained in the previous posts “What is IoT? A short, simple explanation” and “Top 5 Ideas for IoT That Could Change your Life“, the Internet of Things (IoT)-related technologies are currently booming at an unprecedented pace. There are hundreds of thousands of new ideas on how businesses can benefit from the IoT concept, and this list is expanding every single day.

The last seven years have seen a rise in activities geared towards IoT across the globe among technology practitioners, private businesses and education institutions. Back in 2013, it was estimated that there were about 80 things being connected to the internet per second, and by 2020 it is estimated that about 250 things will be connected to the internet per second, that’s´ about 50 billion things in total all connected the internet.

With this massive number of interconnected things, businesses all over the world are positioning themselves to tap into the huge potential that IoT brings. The African region has been markedly slower in embracing the IoT concept compared to most developed nations, but Africa is now increasing it level of intake of IoT. Businesses in countries all over Africa are now using IoT applications to improve their business environment and to improve the lives of the citizens.

IoT adoption in Africa is now an area of great interest. Below are great examples of how IoT has helped businesses and revolutionize peoples´ lives in 6 countries in Africa: Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Namibia.

1. Preventing Oil Pilferage in Tanzania

Usangu  Logistics is  a heavy  transport  company with a fleet of over 100 trucks and tankers dedicated to serving thousands of customers in Tanzania with oil,  lubricants,  and  other bulky products. One immediate challenge that the company faced was that after a tanker is loaded with the product for transport to various locations, the drivers would often pilferage the oil along the way, and would later sell the stolen oil in the black market. The company’s trucks and tankers used a combination of a lock  system  intertwined  with  a  metal  loop  that  is  fitted around the closing mechanism of the tank’s hatch. However, the system could not prevent the driver in possession of the lock’s combination from opening the hatch. The company could not completely control the drivers and did not know when, where, and how much oil has been stolen along the way. This resulted to a big loss for the company, and it prompted an immediate solution that would solve the problem.

The IoT Solution – RFID

The immediate solution came in the form of an IoT application though the use of radio frequency identification (RFID). An  IoT-enabled  gateway  device  is  attached  to  the  truck’s  cabin area,  and the  seals are tagged with  RFID-enabled  tags which are  fastened  to the tracks´ hatch. The tag transmits signals to the gateway device every eight seconds, and the signal is sent to HQ or main office for interpretation and further action. The software will store the seal status and location of the trucks, so the truck and seal information can be monitored in real-time. Any attempt to open the hatch is recorded, and the culprit can immediately be known. The implementation of this IoT-enabled solution resulted to a very severe drop in cases of pilfering of the oil that the trucks and tankers were carrying.

2. Electronic Tolling System in South Africa

IoT began  in  South  Africa  over  a  decade  ago,  and  has  been shaping  the  country  for  the  last  ten  years  even  without many people noticing it. South Africa has been building IoT technology for many years, including the building of a nationwide network of sensors to connect everything from electricity  grids to traffic  controls.

E-toll System in Gauteng Highway

At  the  beginning  of  2012,  the  South  African National  Roads  Agency  Limited  (SANRAL)  introduced an IoT-based E-tolling system in Gauteng Highway. The E-toll system called  the  Open  Road  Tolling  is  meant  to  collect  tolls electronically  without  human  intervention  since  there  are no physical booths on the highway. The IoT system charges all vehicles using the highway without them slowing down or stopping. Simple overhead gantries are fitted with toll  collection  devices which have the capability  to  recognize  an electronic tag  attached  to  the  vehicles  as  it  passes  through  the  gantries. The vehicle owners  are  supposed to  purchase the IoT-based electronic tags and fit  it in  their  vehicles,  and the  tags  can  also  be  loaded whenever  the  credit  gets to zero.  With this IoT-based technology, traffic jams have been reduced dramatically. The IoT-based tags can be easily purchased or reloaded at stores around the country.

3. Waste Management Systems in Kenya

Nairobi County in Kenya have been grappling with waste management issues for a long time. In order  to  tackle this  problem, Nairobi officials approached  IBM  to  develop  an  IoT- based  application  for  waste management. Basically,  the  idea  is  to  develop  a  solution  that can  be  installed  in  the waste  collection  fleet  to  monitor them in real-time. The IoT application is also meant to create a digital map of the Nairobi streets.

oT-Based Smart Sensors for Waste Management

The IoT-based solution called for the fleet of waste collection trucks to be installed with smart sensors that would tell when the vehicles are in the garage or on the road. The IoT-based sensors can also check dumpsites to see if they are full and need to be drained, checks how long the waste collection truck has taken in traffic, and the time they take to collect garbage. The  IoT application  is  also  expected  to automatically monitor the driver’s behavior, detect  speed  bumps and  potholes,   and check  fuel  usage  by  the  driver.  The IoT-based initiative has  enabled  Nairobi County to  track  the  garbage  fleet  and  ensure that  the  trucks  are  doing  their  job  at the allotted  time.  The smart sensors allowed Nairobi County to see great improvements during the trial period as collected waste volumes tremendously increased.

4. Product Verification Initiative in Nigeria

Faced  with a perennial  drug counterfeiting  problem,  Nigerias´  National Agency for Food  and Drug  Administration and Control (NAFDAC)  in  2010  resorted  to  the IoT-based product  verification initiative  to curb drug counterfeiting by using Radio  Frequency  Identification  (RFID). The IoT-based technology was carried out in collaboration with Verification Technology Limited (VTL). The IoT solution  used  tags equipped  with  RFID  to  secure  the  integrity  of  the  drugs throughout  the  supply  chain,  starting  from the manufacturers,  to the distributors,  wholesalers,  retailers, and consumers.

RFID Tags to Prevent Counterfeit Drugs

The RFID tags are expected to track down the drug’s path as it moves across the supply chain. In order to verify the drug’s authenticity, special RFID scanners will be placed at the port of entry. It is also expected that RFID scanners will be purchased by hospitals, pharmacists, and manufacturers in order to have a collective effort in dealing with the problem of drug counterfeiting in Nigeria.

5. Remote Appliance Control in Egypt

Egypt has shown that IoT solutions can be used to solve societal problems through innovation. A  Cairo -based  technology firm called Integreight announced that it has developed an IoT chip that can be integrated  with  modern appliances  like  refrigerators,  cameras, TVs, washing machines, etc. This IoT-based application named 1sheeld gives users the capability to use their appliances remotely by simply connecting the chip to their smartphones.

Remote Control through 1sheeld

The 1sheeld technology uses an Arduiono board, and the 1sheeld application can then be accessed from a smartphone by using Bluetooth.  Using  the 1shield  library, codes can be written into  the  Arduiono  software application  before  uploading  it to  the  board.  This allows the control of many different sensors that are available in the board. There are other IoT-based proposals underway in Egypt, including using sensors to undertake precision potato farming and bee keeping.

6. Electronic Dispensing Tools (EDT) in Namibia

The small South Western African nation is not to be left behind in the field of IoT. In order to improve the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, Namibia implemented an IoT-based electronic dispensing tool.  Pharmacists must dispense the correct medicine in correct amounts to patients, and if a patient misses medication or is given too much, it becomes a very big health problem.  Pharmacists  require  at least some  minimal  information  about  the  patients’ medical history,  and this  is extremely necessary  if  the  patient  needs optimized  care,  and  for  the  pharmaceutical  providers to effectively manage their medicine inventory.

EDT for Accurate Dispensing of Medicine

Electronic Dispensing Tools help pharmaceutical providers to collect, manage, and generate the necessary records that are useful for accurate dispensation of medicine. The data collected includes the patients’ profiles and the medicine inventory. The IoT-based devices can also manage the inventory and logistics of the medicine, alert patients of upcoming appointments using SMS, allow users to work on the same database at the same time, and allows for customized medical reporting functions.

To learn more about the IoT Progress Report for Africa, you can read the very comprehensive paperby Nashon Onyalo, Hosea Kandie, and Josiah Njuki, which was published in the International Journal of Computer Science and Software Engineering (IJCSSE).

In Africa, almost all the countries have developing economies, and they will benefit the most in adopting applications developed with IoT platforms. IoT will change peoples´ lives and improve processes, services, and ways of life. IoT is a cutting-edge technology that is best suited to developing markets, bringing with it flexible connectivity for devices across the entire African region.

What is IOT? – A short and simple explanation

The Internet of Things or “IoT” is probably one of the hottest technical topics of 2016. Although the concept is not new and goes back to the 1980s and 1990s, it is right now that it is really gaining momentum and can become one of the fastest growing businesses in the next 5 years (predicted up to trillions of USD).

There is a huge amount of posts, articles, and white papers on the internet, trying to explain what IOT is, what possibilities it would create, and what its challenges are.

In this post, I’ve tried to explain the topics as simply as possible for those who want to get an idea of the concept in a very short time and without all the fuss.

What is IOT?

IOT is about connecting “Things” to the “Internet”. This connection can be wired or wireless.

The term “Things” is wisely chosen as it can include literally everything: from obvious things such as computers and smartphones that are already connected to Internet, to home appliances, wearables, vehicles, factory machines, to tagged animals and consumables.

What are the key components of IOT?

The key components of IoT can be summarized as follows:

  • Sensors: sensors enable us to collect data about the status of the “Thing”. Sensors are probably the most important components of IOT and can include data such as temperature, GPS location, speed, and all other usable data about the “Thing”.
  • Controllers: IoT is not just about collecting data of the status of things. It can also include controlling the “Thing” over the internet – such as turning off or on a device, stopping a vehicle, locking/unlocking a door, adjusting the temperature of an oven and any other controllable aspect of the “Thing”.
  • Software: apart from the required hardware that should be embedded to every “Thing” that is connected to internet as part of “IoT”, probably the most exciting part of IoT is the software. Once you know the devices that can be sensed and controlled over the internet, you have the needed tools for endless ideas and creativity through the applications that can be developed to provide automated or semi-automated solutions based on human-device and device-device communications.

What “Things” are expected to be part of IoT?

It is very hard to predict what IoT will cover in the next 5 years – the concept is exploding with new ideas every day. Some ideas include:

  • Home appliances: fridges, cookers, coffee makers, heaters, HVAC, TVs, DVD players, lights, doors, windows …
  • Wearables: clothes, shoes, hats, watches, heart monitors …
  • Vehicles: cars, buses, bicycles, trains …
  • Factories: machines, robots, warehouse shelves, parts within machines, tools …
  • Agriculture: biochip transponders on farm animals and plants, farm humidity and temperature sensors …
  • Food: sensors for monitoring the condition of food.

Challenges and Risks

Without a doubt, the most critical challenge and risk of IoT is its security, and how much it would be immune against cyber-attacks, hackers, and unauthorized intruders. With billions of “Things” connected to the internet, it would also mean that by unauthorized access one can create disasters that we’ve already watched in so many science fiction movies.