Is BlackBerry's Project Ion Big Data 2.0?

BlackBerry's (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) Project Ion has been called one of the most exciting developments in the company's pipeline. While it may sound like big data, like Tibco Software (NASDAQ: TIBX  ) and Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA  ) services, Project Ion combines the cloud with applications for a unique approach. However, the big question is whether Project Ion will become fundamentally relevant or drive the company's valuation higher long term?

What is Project Ion?
Essentially, Project Ion is an initiative to provide an analytics infrastructure for businesses by leveraging the data produced by all of BlackBerry's combined devices. In other words, BlackBerry plans to use the data from handset devices to serve its large enterprise clientele with customized products that cater to specific industries.

For example, Economic Times reported on Monday that BlackBerry is soon to launch a health care platform derived from the Project Ion initiative. Reportedly, the company collected data from thousands of medical devices tied to its operating system that allow hospitals to detect early illnesses, among other things.

While such a service may sound like science fiction, it can give professionals an educated guess based on 16,000 connected medical devices that collect more than 3 billion vital signs annually. In other words, it may very well be an educated guess, but it's based on a massive and reliable set of data points.

Taking big data 1 step further
The noted health care service is just one example of how BlackBerry will utilize its data and patents to create products and services to help industries not only see data, but also utilize it to operate more efficiently. This is a major step for the entire big data industry.

With that said, big data is often referenced among investors as being the process of collecting and analyzing data to make more informed decisions. Tibco and Tableau are, perhaps, the most notable players in this space.

In a recent interview with Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadive, the executive explained big data in use, showing how retailers can spot credit card fraud based on items being purchased. This, of course, is a conclusion drawn from millions of data points.

Moreover, data is different. Tibco and Tableau sell services based on fast and slow data, respectively. Tibco's fast data operates in real time to help clients make informed decisions based on current information. Meanwhile, Tableau's slow data uses past data to help clients make operational changes for the future based on what has, or hasn't, worked.

However, there are limitations to all data -- specifically, it's only bits of information. Customers must utilize that information and make the correct decisions. But, for Project Ion, it appears that not only will customers have access to data, but also a product or service derived from that information that allows them to carry out some other type of function, which is not seen in current big data services.

What does all this mean?
Project Ion was not created to be a big data solution, but has apparently become a platform based on such information. Notably, this represents yet another element to BlackBerry's business, aside from existing hardware, software, and services, which could be equally large. In fact, Project Ion might become the face of BlackBerry's future.

With that said, BlackBerry, Tibco, and Tableau trade at 1.4, 2.8, and 11.7 times expected 2014 revenue, respectively. Hence, BlackBerry trades at a deep discount to big data leaders. Granted, Tibco is cheaper than Tableau due to the former's growth being near breakeven following the latter's ability to steal its market share.

Thus, Tableau is growing at 50%-plus annually, which is why it has such a bullish valuation premium. The bottom line is that big data stocks, although disconnected from a growth and valuation multiple perspective, are much richer than BlackBerry. This insinuates that success with Project Ion could drive shares significantly higher.

Foolish thoughts
The final element in looking ahead to Project Ion is the fact that BlackBerry is unlikely to be negatively affected by competitive pressures. Specifically, BlackBerry is seemingly one step ahead of its peers, and the services created from its data are unlike the basic platforms sold by other big data companies.

Therefore, Project Ion's future looks bright, and while BlackBerry shares have soared this year, there are real reasons to believe higher days could be ahead.

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Brian Nichols

Brian Nichols is the author of "5 Simple Steps to Find the Next Top-Performing Stock: How to Identify Investments that Can Double Quickly for Personal Success (2014)" and "Taking Charge With Value Investing (McGraw-Hill, 2013)". Brian is a value investor, but emphasizes psychology in his analysis. Brian studied psychology in undergrad, and uses his experience to find illogical value in the market. Brian covers technology and consumer goods for Motley Fool. Brian also updates all of his new and current positions in his Motley Fool CAPs page. Follow Brian on Twitter and like his page on Facebook for investment conversations and recent stories.

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