Big Data, No Small Thing

July 4th, 2014

It is often said that we are now entering the age of ‘big data’. The concept of ‘big data’ is simple, it refers to the vast increase in data we now have as a result of so many processes being computerised and automated. The dream of the ‘big data’ advocates is that the data will help drive better decision making in organisations, show up trends which were previously hidden and enable strategies which are informed by what is happening in real time. Doug Laney in 2001 identified the 3 factors of big data as; volume, velocity, and variety (cited in 2014). The volume of data available is increasingly massively, it is coming at organisations much more quickly (hence velocity) and is far more varied, allowing insights into behaviours and processes which were previously not available to scrutiny.

The impact of Big data on business has been well documented and universities also are becoming increasingly aware of the contribution which big data sets can make to their strategic planning. A recent article by Murray-Morris (2014) outlined 3 ways in which universities are gathering data on student behaviour and learning and using this to improve outcomes. Technology is driving ever more nuanced insights into the way students interact with the university and with that comes an expectation that any new technologies introduced by the university will contribute to these data sets and demonstrate that they are effective in improving teaching and learning.

When we built the OMBEA response system, we did so knowing that data will be very important to organisations investing in response technology, which is why we worked so hard to get OMBEA Connect just right. OMBEA Connect is the ‘big-data’ interface to how response systems are used in your organisation. Most people are familiar with the layer of data which comes from running a response session, that is the output from the handsets which is collected into a database so reports and analysis can be run from the session. But crucially, OMBEA Connect has a higher level of data reporting and analysis which sits above the level of an individual session at your company or university and collects data on the sessions themselves.

The OMBEA administrator can log into the dashboard from any browser and see the aggregate number of responses which have been collected for each day. There is also an average given on the number of participants in each session. This reporting gives at-a-glance information on how often OMBEA is being used. This data is available at different levels of granularity ranging from the big picture of how OMBEA is being used across the organisation, down to how particular groups or even individual lecturers, trainers or facilitators are using it. This data is very useful in many ways. Firstly it can help an organisation get a handle on the return on investment (ROI) of implementing OMBEA as high levels of usage would indicate the system is being widely used. Secondly it can help identify where staff training or support issues need to be addressed. The administrator can see that sometimes the system is not being used and by triangulating this data with what they know of the organisation, they can work out which groups or faculties need extra support.

OMBEA Connect also collects data on the operating system and mobile devices being used to answer questions. This is a simple yet very important feature and it yields data which is immediately useful to the organisation. In corporate settings which have implemented ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) strategies, or in universities where most students will bring their own Smartphone technology to lectures, these figures will give you insights into device usage, and may even be useful when planning other technology strategies within the organisation.

Any organisation today, be it a ‘for-profit’ or not, is looking for a return on investment in technology. But measuring that return is often difficult, particularly if it requires dedicated data collection such as surveys or staff interviews. OMBEA Connect works in the background to aggregate data across all of the sessions being run and puts that data right at your fingertips. It won’t give you a definitive answer about the ROI for OMBEA, but it will give you plenty of pointers to how the system is being used and help you put strategies in place to maximise its usage and push the ROI as high as possible.


Murray-Morris, S. (2014) How are universities monitoring students' behaviour?. online Available at: Accessed: 31 Mar 2014. (2014) What is Big Data? | SAS. online Available at: Accessed: 20 Mar 2014

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