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Unlocking big data

George Steven of Nalanda Technology explains how new software technology can help food companies to tackle information overload and make better use of historical data to improve their performance.


Data is continuously generated from smart phones, wearable technology and all the other devices that are connected with each other in the Internet of Things (IoT). This creates both structured and unstructured data from documents, spreadsheets, emails, web pages, images, text files, XML and database records. This explosion of new information continues to grow on a daily basis, with over 90% of all the data in today’s world having been produced since 2011. Now there is an ever-growing demand to produce and have access to new tools and solutions, which can deal effectively with this abundance of big data. With these big problems also come new opportunities.

The evolution of big data analytics has been staggering; it has progressed from an underused asset to a vital source of intelligence and insight, driven by improved hardware, cloud technologies and a plethora of specialist software. These technological advances have pushed the boundaries of what is possible, driving innovation and enabling huge strides forward in fields like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cognitive Computing. There has been a marked acceleration of big data deployments, with businesses now utilising their data capabilities as a key source of competitive advantage. Regardless of the size of enterprise, big data is a valuable asset with companies focused on delivering tangible business outcomes.

New methods of data capture are becoming more commonplace in food manufacturing. With the IoT making its way steadily through the industry, more emphasis is being put on gathering and using data not only to better understand and service customers, but also to support more informed decision making.

Within the food manufacturing industry, the big data challenge has multiple dimensions as companies seek to:

• manufacture cost effective products that industry and consumers will buy

• stay competitive

• embrace new processes

• influence the future.

In a sector that influences and is influenced by global economies, multinational distributors and independent retailers, staying ahead of the competition is more than important, it is essential!

This explosion of new information continues to grow on a daily basis, with over 90% of all the data in today’s world having been produced since 2011.”

Use of big data in the food industry

Customer intelligence

This is perhaps the most obvious use of big data. Data can be pulled from forums, social media, image sharing sites, customer review sites and so on, and used to gather real time details on competitor offerings and consumer preferences. This market intelligence can be invaluable for a company to gain competitive advantage and deliver what customers want. Learning from the past will help to look towards the future, so being able to gain insights into a company’s own products and procedures is only part of the challenge. Recognising how a competitor has been able to come to the market first with an innovation will help other companies to learn from the competitor’s success.


Consumers want better visibility into their food lifecycle - where it is coming from, how it was produced, how distribution works, etc. Big data can provide this visibility into the process.

Food quality

Big data can be used to check food quality and to help prevent any inconsistencies or problems. It also helps to ensure food manufacturers are not at risk of breaching regulations.

Traceability and audit readiness

Knowing exactly where a product is located through the manufacturing process and which suppliers/ partners are involved at any given time is useful information not only for optimising the supply chain, but also in helping to comply with increasing food safety regulations.

Unstructured data, such as that in emails, documents, PDFs and the like, forms a huge part of an organisation’s ‘corporate memory.”

Corporate memory

Whilst many organisations are not able to put an actual value on big data, having no understanding of, or access to, its own data can be life threatening to a business. Being able to quickly account for every document, communication and interaction can give a business the ability to make better decisions faster.

The ‘corporate memory’ is a phrase that is commonly used to describe an organisation’s historical information. It is usually a collection of documents, communications and decisions that are spread throughout the ICT landscape, from email archives, CRM solutions to files servers and content management solutions. As staffing levels change, personnel move on and the ICT landscape evolves; knowing where the information is stored is vital to making the correct decisions.

User needs

Users will generally have a set of expectations that are driven by the technology around them, from looking up contacts on a phone to searching the internet for a restaurant. Personal searching, research and analysis is not very different to data analysis in the workplace. The key difference is the data, not the way of working and how intuitive the technology is.

As a user of a big data solution, there should be a default expectation that the solution is there to make the job easier. Usually, an assessment of the needs of the business is carried out before a decision is taken to implement an appropriate technology solution.

Unstructured data, such as that in emails, documents, PDFs and the like, forms a huge part of an organisation’s ‘corporate memory’. Often one of the greatest challenges with unstructured data is the quality. Without a consistent data standard, (easy to enforce in a structured solution where rules can reject invalid data elements), the ability to discover and analyse is challenged. The challenge cannot be overcome with the same techniques that are employed with structured data solutions at both a technical and commercial level. The number of variables and use cases limits users’ ability to deliver comprehensive answers using the same methods.

Software solutions

A Software as a Service (SaaS) high precision search, discovery and analysis platform can help to process existing unstructured data from a wide range of sources to deliver meaningful information to corporate managers. For example, Nalytics from Nalanda Technology is a cloud solution for extracting knowledge from unstructured data from any device. It helps individuals, teams and organisations access and analyse their data to enhance insight, drive innovation and deliver improvements. This is cutting edge technology which can deliver powerful search, analytical and explorative capabilities.

AVEBE, an international Dutch potato starch manufacturer, recognised the value in its own data and deployed the Nalytics Solution to help it make better use of historical data – quickly accounting for every document, communication and interaction. Nalytics enables the business to make better decisions and make those decisions faster. The company produces and innovates solutions based on potato starch and protein for the food, paper, building, textiles, adhesives and feed industries. An initial assessment highlighted a need to make the company’s corporate memory more accessible to more people in a fast and efficient manner.

Cutting edge software solutions, such as Nalytics, offer the following benefits:

• Data management - storage, searching and analysing

A super-fast, efficient and precise index and search solution gives users the ability to connect data from disparate locations and solution types, to search using a single interface, to discover insights in all data and to analyse the content in ways not previously considered.

• Audit readiness

Being able to access all appropriate data is important, however retaining intellectual property and competitiveness is vital. With commercial threats from outside the business, a software solution can help to protect a business and data from commercial breaches that might originate from within, either accidental or intentional. Using AI techniques and a user intuitive interface, the business is empowered to protect key identifiable information.

• Efficiency improvement

Users are directed to the most appropriate content first, enabling informed decisions to be taken with all relevant data to hand. By being fast and efficient, a workforce has an increased level of confidence that its decisions are accurate and effective, which in turn leads to increases in productivity and therefore efficiencies.

• Better communication/collaboration/visibility

In the modern world where organisations have to work in multiple offices and across multiple time zones, being able to collaborate and evidence all workings is imperative. Users are empowered to work together either in a peer-to-peer or a management oversight capacity.

• Improved speed/quality of decision making

With performance and collaboration at the forefront of the solution, decision making is cognisant of all available information in a timely manner.

• Enhanced productivity and performance

By being able to reduce repetitive and procedural challenges in the work place, as well as guarantee precise accurate results, the technology allows users to make better decisions, faster.

• Risk mitigation/enhanced food safety

Risk exists in every part of industry, from the supply chain to the manufacturing process. Giving the wrong advice or not making the right decision can have serious repercussions. Therefore, being able to recall the right information is vital. However, the format of information in documentation can vary. Using a consistent language across a business is challenging, particularly when a lot of documentation comes from third parties, which may use different data standards. A software solution has the ability to recall all appropriate information regardless of data standards, which helps to reduce risk.

A search, discovery and analysis platform can help to make better decisions possible and to improve performance and save time and money.”


As more and more food companies are seeing the benefits of utilising big data, technology is being developed to support their requirements. Big data analysis is vital to the success and longevity of a business.

A search, discovery and analysis platform can help to make better decisions possible and to improve performance and save time and money. Food companies already have all the information they need to make good decisions; the challenge is to access this information and make better use of it.


George Steven, Solution Consultant, Nalanda Technology, The Hub, 2 Earl Haig Road, Glasgow G52 4JU.

Established in 2013, Nalanda Technology is an independent software vendor in the electronic search and discovery space. The Company delivers innovative solutions using its core Nalytics technology that helps individuals, teams and whole organisations to explore their data and find exactly what they are looking for.

For more information about Nalytics and to find out how it could help your organisation visit or email


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