IT: Big data, the “new oil” within reach of African countries on one condition

Big data, you know? To put it simply, it is the mass of data that passes through the web every day: photos, videos, music, messages, likes, etc. It’s like a big brain that remembers everything that happens on the internet. Big data is a gold mine, so that countries can take advantage of it, there are prerequisites. Read this text by Azize Sérémé, consultant in big data and artificial intelligence!

The Big Data Concept

The term “big data” is an expression in the field of computing which, in fact, is a set of concepts rolled into one. Concepts like collecting, storing, processing and analyzing data are all key elements of big data. But you should know that the phrase only really started to gain momentum when technology analyst Doug Laney defined it in more detail and made the term much more popular. It was in his article in Gartner Inc. magazine in 2001 that he first mentioned the characteristics of big data which are the 3Vs (Volume, Variety and Velocity).

What is big data?

The term “big data” in English means “big data”. It is data whose size or type makes traditional database technologies inadequate to store and analyze it.

But you should know that this same process of collecting and analyzing data has existed for a long time, because the first databases have existed since the 1970s. It is thanks to the technological advances of the years 2010/2011 that the field of big data took a big leap.

For example, we saw the creation of new databases where we could store all kinds of data. This was not possible before with traditional databases, but today you can store almost anything. Also, new data processing techniques such as – parallel data processing – not only significantly reduce the time required to process them, but also the cost.

What are 3Vs? The 3Vs of big data Volume-Velocity-Variety

At the time, big data was characterized by the 3Vs: volume, velocity and variety. Today, some definitions go so far as to list 5Vs or 6Vs. We will focus on the 3Vs.

The volume (i.e. the size): it is the huge amount of data generated at any time in the world. Text messages, images from surveillance cameras, comments on social networks, videos, photos are all data that need to be stored somewhere. Facebook alone generates 4000 Terabytes (or 4 Million GB) of data per day.

Velocity (i.e. speed): This is the speed with which this data is produced. For example, it is said that on Google, there are approximately 3.5 billion searches per day. On WhatsApp, there are more than 65 billion messages exchanged per day. And even if we take a site like, articles, videos, photos and comments are created every day.

Variety (i.e. type): Here we are talking more about the type or kind of data created. In the world of big data, there is data that follows a specific format and can be stored in traditional databases. But there are also some that do not have a precise format and therefore need specialized and adequate databases.

For example, information such as the surname and first name, age and salary of a company’s personnel follow a precise and therefore structured format. On the other hand, the messages, photos, tweets and comments of social networks do not necessarily follow a precise format of this unstructured fact.

Applied big data: Where and how is big data used?

The Facebook case

Facebook (FB) is a popular platform used by more than half of the world’s population. Every day, FB collects and stores “likes”, comments, “posts”, photos and videos. And thanks to its ultra-powerful computers and algorithms, FB makes an in-depth analysis of this data. The follow-up is that, thanks to the results of these analyses, FB has an in-depth knowledge of us: our needs, our desires, our aspirations and our habits. Then, FB can decide to use this information for its own purposes in order to improve its services. But more often than not, this data is sold to advertisers who will use it to perform much more targeted advertising to us.

Big data has its application in several other areas. Take the case of healthcare for example. There is research that is being done on breast cancer, or thanks to the analyzes of scanner images, we can predict whether a cancer is serious or less serious. In finance, banks, thanks to data, have a better knowledge of their customers and can therefore offer more appropriate solutions.

Big data in Africa

With the rapid digitization of the continent and the significant growth in mobile use, Africa is increasingly generating huge amounts of data. According to an article by Finbarr Toesland (on the site), the domain has significant economic benefits and is estimated to grow by 28% every year until 2025 with 68 billion dollars generated. Unfortunately, this growth will not be the same everywhere in Africa. Countries like Nigeria, Kenya or South Africa will benefit more from these economic benefits compared to other African countries.

Some Obstacles

One of the main obstacles that many face in this field is the lack of training. Studies in computer science, statistics and probability are necessary to be able to succeed in this field. In North America, for example, fields such as Data Science and Machine Learning have seen considerable growth over the past ten years. In Africa, this lack of training is all the more important as it is one of the primary factors for the popularization of big data.

When we talk about data, there is also the confidentiality aspect. Often as consumers, we do not have an overview of how our data is collected, processed and used. Often, even companies collect our personal data without our consent. Nowadays, several countries around the world have implemented data privacy laws. The European Union has GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation. It is a law that governs the processing of personal data on the territory of the European Union.

Finally, there is the data quality side. Even though today it is said that data is the “new oil”, not all data has the same quality. To be able to enjoy the fruits of big data applications, you need to have quality data. In addition to quality, the data must be true, that is, data that can be trusted. The quality of the data and their veracity are also new characteristics added to the recent definitions of big data. Without quality data based on truth, one can only create flawed solutions based on false information.

Finally, the future of big data is full of opportunities and our countries need to invest in basic infrastructure and the training of local talent. As Africans and particularly Burkinabè, we have a considerable advantage over international firms because we better understand our context and can then create solutions adapted to our local realities.

Azize Sereme

Big data and artificial intelligence consultant


Finbarr Toesland

We would love to thank the author of this write-up for this outstanding material

IT: Big data, the “new oil” within reach of African countries on one condition

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