U.S. government's open data proves a treasure trove for savvy businesses

Cindy Waxer

And then there's simply the question of whether you really want to give away your secret sauce. After all, "some organizations have very unique and distinctive data where the data itself creates a competitive advantage," says Chui. That's information that's best left in the vault.

- Cindy Waxer

Tapping the Richness of Weather Data
Although best known for the friendly forecasts on The Weather Channel and Weather.com, The Weather Company has spent two years branching out and fashioning itself into a provider of a powerful big data analytics platform. Today, the Atlanta-based company's WeatherFX data service ingests more than 20TB of data per day, including satellite pictures, radar imagery and more, from more than 800 public and private sources. By crunching terabytes of information into insights that impact the bottom line, WeatherFX is helping insurance companies, media conglomerates and airlines save money, drive revenue and satisfy customers.

For example, by mashing up hail data with policyholder addresses, insurers can alert homeowners to potential damage to their homes and cars. "By warning customers of pending dangers, insurers can encourage customers to protect their personal property, which lessens the impact of claims on insurers caused by bad weather," says Bryson Koehler, CIO at The Weather Company.

Airlines also use weather data. They may, for instance, monitor storm patterns and reposition aircraft to avert scheduling delays. And retailers are discovering that keeping track of the weather can help them anticipate consumer demand and thereby boost sales — they might, for example, stock their shelves with anti-frizz hair products when a heat wave is expected.

By warning customers of pending dangers, insurers can encourage customers to protect their personal property, which lessons the impact of claims on insurers caused by bad weather. Bryson Koehler, CIO, The Weather Company

Still, packaging 800 sources of data, much of it open, requires heavy lifting on the part of The Weather Company's IT department. Koehler says the company had to assemble "an incredibly complex environment" to manage "a dog's breakfast" of documents. Nearly two years ago, The Weather Company rebuilt its entire consolidated platform, called SUN (Storage Utility Network), which is deployed on Riak NoSQL databases from Basho Technologies and runs across four availability zones in the Amazon Web Services cloud. Today, the renewable compute platform gathers 2.25 billion weather data points 15 times per hour.

Overseeing this new IT platform is a data science team composed of 220 meteorologists and hundreds of engineers, each with in-depth domain knowledge of atmospheric phenomena. "When you're ingesting data from 800 different sources, you need to have some level of expertise tied to each one," says Koehler. "Most Java developers aren't going to be able to tell you, in intricate detail, the difference between a 72 and a 42 on a dew-point scale and how that may or may not impact a business."

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