Big data became a hot topic following the release of the film Moneyball, which starred Brad Pitt. Based on a true story, it recounts how massive databases enabled a baseball team to climb from the bottom rungs of the league ladder to the top simply by scrutinizing statistics on the optimal performance of each of its players and devising a strategy for each match based on these results.
Can big data be applied to the economy and trade?
Of course it can, and in fact, it already is. There are 18 billion devices in the world that can connect to the internet, almost three times the number of people on the planet. These devices generate vast quantities of data that big companies use almost daily to find out, for example, the best times to screen advertisements or special offers and even to find out about their potential clients’ tastes.
Big data techniques help us handle enormous volumes of information that is highly varied both in terms of the type of data in question (words used, location and mobility, geological and climatic information, inventories, transactions, bank records) and the sources it came from (cell phones, audio, video, satellite positioning systems, digital sensors in appliances or machinery in homes or industrial settings, meteorological equipment, internet browsers, financial transactions, and so on).
When these devices connect to one another and interact with the environment, a new dimension arises: the Internet of Things, which multiplies available data exponentially. High-speed responses are needed if we are to analyze such large quantities of information effectively, especially if the aim is to act in real-time, which is key in situations like environmental catastrophes or when trying to contain the spread of infectious diseases.
iContainers is a good example of a company providing fast handling of large volumes of data. This online platform gathers data on maritime transportation. Using the site, importers and exporters can compare rates in real time and manage their maritime shipments quickly and easily from start to finish, without needing to wait days or even weeks for a quote.
Big data, The Internet of Things, and predictive analysis are an essential part of certain areas of trade.
For example, in company logistics, they help reduce transportation and security costs, identify potential demand with greater precision, and improve launch times for new products. Firms can leverage them to increase their competitiveness and reduce their operating costs.
These technological developments have four main impacts: improving productivity and efficiency levels, reducing costs, increasing the services embodied in goods, and expanding e-commerce.
From the regulatory standpoint, the main challenges of this transition to online objects will be linked to intellectual property rights, data protection and privacy, cybersecurity, and technical standards, among other factors.
The annual flagship event of the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL) (link in Spanish) will tackle this issue through its panel “Big Data for Big Integration,” at which global experts will share the latest developments on these issues.
Can big data play a part in developing the export profiles of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean? What do we need to make progress in the field of trade intelligence so as to better choose our trading partners? Latin America has a real challenge ahead of it as it must consolidate its circumstances so as to take maximum advantage of these new technologies. This implies improving infrastructure (information and communications technology), the education and training of human capital, promoting innovation and spreading knowledge, and playing an active role in multilateral trade negotiations.
The information is already out there, waiting for us to decide to analyze it and use it in our trade strategies. Those who do are sure to get ahead.
 Gayá, Romina. 2015. “The Multilateral Trading System and New Technologies.” Integration and Trade 19, no. 39: 64–77.