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Big Data: What’s the Big Deal?

Obviously, Big Data or, better said, the explosive growth of data analytics in business and personal life, is changing the way we operate in fundamental ways.  Every day, we are finding that we increasingly depend on real data to make decisions rather than speculate.

In the business world, data analytics is seen a way to get a competitive advantage or lower costs.  Part of the reason is that is possible is that the cost of storing that data, in the office or in the cloud, has become virtually insignificant which means that we are holding on to more of it for longer periods of time. Think about it, back in the bad old days before cheap, digital storage, we were forced to periodically dump potentially valuable information because it cost too much money to keep the paper documents in storage and who the heck was going to read those files anyway?  Imagine the life of the poor researcher before the advent of the digital age when she would have to dig through files full of paper until her eyes were too bloodshot and too tired to read any more, all in the hopes of finding some tidbit of important information.  That’s why the value of data wasn’t being realized outside of large universities with lots of grad students to do the dirty work or a big company who could afford the researchers needed to compile data.

Computers and cheap digital storage changed the world.  Now, we can hold on to every memo we’ve ever written, every email we’ve ever gotten, every financial report produced by our accounting system and quickly collate all  that data to see if there’s anything valuable.  An entire industry of software has been developed specifically to do nothing more than do just that.  And IBM has upped the stakes recently when the announced that they were going to pore billions of dollars into their ultimate Big Data system, the Watson supercomputer.  Do you know that Watson is already better able to diagnose cancer than a human doctor?  And IBM and the University of Texas are predicting that, with Watson’s help, they will be able to eliminate many cancers before they take root in people. And, just because I know you (Rebecca) hate this sort of thing, IBM is betting that Watson can be used to essentially psychoanalyze people by doing nothing more than trolling through their social media posts and Tweets.  Scary!

And it’s not just the domain of big business.  Data analytics is available to just about any business using many of the tools Google makes available online for free.  Google is so convinced that there Big Data revolution is going to change the world, that they are buying up smaller companies that specialize in data analysis and artificial intelligence with a vengeance.

When you think about it, consumers also use data analytics daily.  How many of us go online and comparison shop for the best price on a product or service without really considering the power of the hardware and software that makes that work?  Big Data is a big deal and it is changing the world.

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