The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Big Data

According to one projection, the sales of big-data-related products and services grew to more than $18 billion in 2013.

1. GE

For harnessing data from its planes and trains to power a new Industrial Internet, potentially saving billions. General Electric is best known for its machine making, but it’s gotten smart and branded itself as a big-data company, too, by pushing its vision for an “Industrial Internet”—the notion that machines should be connected like the web in order to increase efficiency and reduce downtime. In 2012, it launched software to help airlines and railroads move their data to the cloud and partnered with Accenture to form Taleris, a startup that will help airlines predict mechanical malfunctions and reduce flight cancellations. The Abu Dhabi–based Etihad Airways was the first to deploy the tech in November. Read more >>

2. Kaggle

For feeding its DIY data scientists cash-prize challenges (then molding them into a consulting biz). Now more than ever, organizations are turning toward data insights to make big decisions, and with its battalion of 150,000 data scientists, no one is better poised to take advantage of the shift than Kaggle. It farms out complex “data challenges” that come with cash prizes—early customers included Cornell University and the Heritage Provider Network—but now, even those from tech’s upper echelon ask for Kaggle’s help. (Kaggle’s scientists have created algorithms for both Amazon and Facebook.) CEO Anthony Goldbloom has cleverly transformed his group of scientists into a lucrative consulting service, in which they receive up to $300 an hour to untangle data problems.

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3. Ayasdi

For using a visual approach to take the guesswork out of big data. Instead of mining petabytes of info to solve a problem, customers of DARPA-funded spinout Ayasdi—which include Merck and Citigroup—dump related data into its platform to generate a 3-D map that unearths new trends. Its work has revealed genetic traits of cancer survivors, tracked the source of an E. coli outbreak, and, over the past year, snagged $30 million in funding. It recently created a visualization to help the influential Washington, D.C.–based think tank, Institute for the Study of War, map terrorist behavior in and around Baghdad during a campaign to free imprisoned Al Qaeda members.

  • A) Violence increases in Baghdad, marking the beginning of Al Qaeda’s “Break the Walls” campaign.
  • B) After the Tikrit Tasfirat prison break, “random attacks” are launched on the outskirts of Baghdad as terrorist cells restructure.
  • C) A new pattern of Baghdad attacks emerges, undetected using previous methods.
  • D) The prison-break campaign goes full throttle, culminating in last summer’s attack on Abu Ghraib, in which nearly 1,000 prisoners escaped. . . .
  • E) . . . But the map splits here to reveal Al Qaeda’s primary target to be Shi’a Muslims, while concurrent attacks on the Iraqi Security Forces persisted.

4. IBM

For playing global data evangelist by sharing its problem-solving power with cities, businesses, and universities. IBM raked in more revenue from big data–related products and services—a total of $1.3. billion—than any other company in 2012, and it’s not simply because Big Blue excels at data storage and analytics. In the (still) early days of big data, IBM is its biggest, and much needed, evangelist. Through the Smarter Cities initiative it launched three years ago, it continues to teach the world what big data can do by launching a new technology in the French city of Lyon, for example, to improve traffic flow by predicting points of congestion. IBM is also launching new curriculums centered on big data and analytics at schools like Georgetown and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in an effort to prepare students for the estimated 4.4 million big-data jobs that will be created by 2015.

5. Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine

For embracing data scientists and supercomputers to build the hospital of the future. The New York City hospital is bringing on top Silicon Valley talent to build a facility that will map patients’ genomes to predict diseases, reduce the number of average hospital visits, and streamline electronic medical records. (Its first hire was Jeff Hammerbacher, cofounder of big-data software company Cloudera who also launched Facebook’s well-muscled data-science team.) At the heart of Mount Sinai’s efforts are a $3 million supercomputer named Minerva, which quickly processes gigabytes of health data, and BioMe, a database of genomic samples from more than 25,000 patients.

6. The Weather Company

For analyzing millions of local climates to predict how shoppers’ habits sway with the weather. It’s more than just a weather channel. By analyzing the behavior patterns of its digital and mobile users in 3 million locations worldwide—along with the unique climate data in each locale—the Weather Company has become an advertising powerhouse, letting shampoo brands, for example, target users in a humid climate with a new antifrizz product. It’s no surprise that more than half of the Weather Company’s ad revenue is now generated from its digital operations.

7. Knewton

For forging alliances to make millions of students smarter, from adaptive­-learning e­books to personalized English­ language training courses. Any teacher can walk students through a course. But to pinpoint and develop the specific problem areas of each student—in classrooms that are already at capacity—is a tough undertaking, which is where Knewton steps in. Through its digital platform, Knewton analyzes the progress of millions of students, from kindergarten to college level, to create better test questions and personalized course goals. The company recently partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to provide adaptive K-12 math courses, as well as French startup Gutenberg Technology to create smarter digital textbooks—then capped off the year by raising an impressive $51 million, led by venerable venture firm Atomico.

8. Splunk

For providing businesses with hundreds of homegrown apps to sniff out error files and keep things humming. After going public in 2012, Splunk has continued its explosive growth as a pure-play leader in the big-data space. It pulled in $200 million in revenue in 2013, thanks to new customers like T-Mobile, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Latin American e-commerce giant B2W, and to its hundreds of apps that let companies manipulate their data in new ways. (Google Maps for Splunk, for example, might let a company view website outages on a geographical map.)

9. Gnip

For expanding its service to let customers dive through every social media stream available. Gnip’s service, which lets customers monitor and parse through social media streams by attributes like keywords, trends, and locations, has grown even more powerful over the past year. In addition to data from Facebook, YouTube, and Google+, and access to Twitter’s full historical stream of tweets—which the Library of Congress uses—the company now offers real-time streams from Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram, Reddit, and Bitly. Gnip also recently added a feature to its service called Profile Geo enrichment, which adds the location of a tweeter’s profile—not just the location he’s broadcasting from.

10. Evolv

For mining employee performance to help stanch turnover and upend HR. Big data is also changing the way companies hire and manage their workforces. Like other HR software, Evolv helps employers better understand employees and job candidates by comparing their skills, work experience, and personalities. But Evolv takes it to a deeper level, crunching more than 500 million data points on gas prices, unemployment rates, and social media usage to help clients like Xerox—who has cut attrition by 20 percent—predict, for example, when an employee is most likely to leave his job. Other insights Evolv’s data scientists have uncovered: People with two social media accounts perform much higher than those with more or less, and in many careers, such as call-center work, employees with criminal backgrounds perform better than those with squeaky-clean records. Evolv’s sales grew a whopping 150% from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013.

[Image:Flickr user Andy Wilkinson]

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