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How the Internet of Things is transforming business

Clare Simmons — January 2015

Virgin Atlantic’s technology leader David Bulman explores the application, ownership and impact of big data and IoT.

David Bulman, director of IT at Virgin Atlantic, is not expecting the Internet of Things to prove its business value at some time in the future — he’s seeing it do just that right now. “What’s the business potential for the Internet of Things? I don’t think there’s potential. It’s a reality that’s already here,” according to Bulman. And his company is already working with objects connected to the Internet on a huge scale.

The international airline has just taken delivery of Boeing’s new 787 aircraft, described by Bulman as “true Internet of Things objects,” with every single component attached to the airplane network and providing data.

Considering that these new aircraft can produce upwards of a third of a terabyte of data per flight and each one makes hundreds if not thousands of flights a year, the amount of data Bulman’s team has to process is “truly massive.” But, he emphasizes, “the benefit we gain from it is equally massive.” For example, a jet engine that is performing sub-optimally mid-flight is relaying that information to ground staff throughout the journey, so when it lands at its destination airport engineers can be ready with the appropriate service.
Value exchange

But that is just one of many applications underway, and Bulman predicts that the Internet of Things revolution — and the associated surge in the amount of data gathered and stored — will have an increasing impact both within companies and on the consumers they target. In order to leverage this opportunity, he argues that a careful balance must be struck between providing information to the business and the impact that might have on the privacy of the consumer. As he sees it, consumers must feel they are getting value from the data they share with companies. Moreover, transparency is vital to this relationship. “People understand a value exchange like that, but it has to be explicit,” Bulman explains.

The expected impact of more and more connected devices upon the quantity of data available may be a greater focus than ever for IT leaders, but Bulman struggles with the term big data. “How a company deals with the information stored in its systems is a problem that has been around for decades. It’s not new.” What is new is the entire business’s focus on this data and the cutting-edge analytical techniques that are emerging to extract value from it, he explains.

At Virgin Atlantic, the ownership of big data is shared across business functions, he outlines, because that value exchange with the consumer must be managed by all aspects of the business that touch the consumer. Bulman advises that in this new world of data management, striking that balance requires a perspective drawn from a true mix of business and technology teams.

• David Bulman was a keynote speaker at Nimbus Ninety Ignite in London.

First published
January 2015
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About: David Bulman
With over 25 years’ experience in IT, David Bulman is director of information technology at Virgin Atlantic Airways. Originally from Canada, he has managed digital teams at media and advertising multinationals, including News International and Aegis Group.

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