A big data reality check

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being the chair for the Fujitsu North America Technology Forum 2012. The focus of the event was extremely topical as it was “From Sensor Networks to Human Networks: Turning Big Data into Actionable Wisdom”. Alongside the excellent presentations there were also specific topic breakout sessions as well as a technology hall with 20 new opportunities showcased as well as innovative solutions from Fujitsu’s research and development programmes working on “leveraging ‘big data’ to transform business, society and our daily lives”. That’s certainly a big vision statement!

The event attracted around 400 attendees which managed to combine a significant scale with a nice feeling of intimacy.  What struck me most about the day was the high level of interest and the wide range of perspectives represented and explored.  Oh and yes I also learned the value of your main keynote speaker being someone as experienced and relaxed as Gordon Bell – when the microphone failed just as he got into his stride; it was great to see a professional handle that blip without a flick of concern or missing a beat!

This is not the first time we’ve mentioned the big data topic on this blog (and you can read more on our Technology Perspectives site) but the over-riding message I took from my many discussions during the event was that people seem fairly comfortable with the concept but are very much focused on how to extract “actionable wisdom”.  In the context the presentation from Michael Chui of McKinsey Global Institute is definitely worth some reading time as a great summary of where value might be drawn across the industry spectrum.  There is also more detail in a research paper he published in 2011 entitled “Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity”.

I was also extremely interested in one of the breakout sessions focusing on the healthcare sector when Fujitsu Laboratories of America (FLA) spoke of partnering with a technology subsidiary of a healthcare provider, Springfield Clinic.  This joint development around remote patient monitoring and reporting caught my attention and I was able to discuss in more detail outside of the session with Jim Hewitt, CEO Jardogs and CIO Springfield Clinic.  I was excited to hear about some technology I’d seen during its earlier research incarnation, a remote sensing platform, had been integrated with Jardogs’ FollowMyHealth Universal Health Record (UHR).  The combination creates an anytime, anywhere collection and transmits selected health data types to be immediately usable by the patients UHR.  There is definitely a buzz to be had from seeing something you saw at a very early conceptual stage becoming real and moving to pilot deployment.

Finally what gave me most food for thought was the keynote presentation by Gordon Bell and his MyLifeBits initiative; the digital storage of every aspect of a life.  I am still mulling over the questions his material raised for me and deciding what conclusions I reach.  It certainly made a term like “digital universe” have wider connotations and more personal resonance for me than it did before he started speaking.

If you’d like to learn more, follow these links to: more images; copies of the presentation materials; and details of this and previous FLA events.

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