Big data – getting on the front foot

With cloud now part of everyday language, the next big thing is Big Data. Essentially it is the recognition that the digital world is generating increasing volumes of data (according to Cisco, humans created more data in 2009 than in all previous years combined), most of which no one is doing anything with, except storing it. The challenge articulated by the big data concept is effective mining and analysis the data to create value and wealth. By way of an example, The Big Mac Index brings together a set of data that can give an indication of the relative wealth of a country but how and when it is applied is the key.

Titling this post “Big Data – getting on the front foot” refers to a balance with human intuition; we often make a decision based on a small set of knowledge and information only to be second-guessed later with facts and figures that indicate whether our decision was correct (or not). For me the execution of big data is to put the right information, data and knowledge in to the hands of the decision maker at the point they need it, not at some point post-decision. What does this mean for you and me? Well, healthcare professionals, retailers, financial services providers, government or just about anyone that we interact with in a social or business context will have immense amounts of information about us and our relative positions in teams of health, wealth, buying habits, risk for insurance purposes etc. – let’s hope that the decisions they make, based on that data, are the correct ones!

Fujitsu’s vision of a Human Centric Intelligent Society highlights all the positive aspects of this digital society with the “Internet of Things” playing a pervasive role. But is the World going to be so different as a result or will it spin just a bit faster? If we take our health and well being as an example, there is a logical chain events that lead to a general improvement. By using a simple logical sequence of mapping the human genome, understanding the variation from what is expected, how we live and the environment we live in, we can potentially be offered very precise and evidence-based advice on how to avoid certain illnesses. Add the ability to model potential drugs in the digital world against the human gnome including demographic variances and the potential outcome has a huge value to society. The research and development costs of drugs drop considerably as potential failures are weeded out very early in the development cycle and, using big data, a doctor can map the best drug to a condition you have based on your gnome.

It all sounds great but there are some challenges along the way:

  • McKinsey indicate that big data will bring lots of new jobs; however it’s my hypothesis that these are really the same jobs carried out differently.
  • Some of the bastions of our society (particularly in the west) will need to change. For example, insurance companies will need to take a different view on their risk-based business model (otherwise we will all be uninsurable!).
  • We’ll need to take a different approach to security too – look at how the “Facebook generation” views sharing and what they care about.

In short – we will all have to behave differently in the world of Big Data. After all, it’s not just a big social network where everyone is your friend!

2 thoughts on “Big data – getting on the front foot

  1. Good points. Big data, and big analysis that goes with it is going to be the largest growing job sector over the next couple of decades for a fairly simple reason: Machine automation will continue to replace people in all job having to do with physical reality. Andrew McAfee gave a great example of a steel mill which used to employ 6000 people 20 years ago, now employs 3000 people and produces 2.5 times as much steel. Why? Automation.

    What is the by-product of that automation? Huge piles of data. Analysis of that data is NOT automatic. It will take intelligence, and there are essentially no physical boundaries to the size of the data that can be collected. So there is an infinite amount of work possible: meaning, of course, in the face of decreasing employment else where, this field will have growth possibilities.

  2. Keith, You raise an interesting perspective on the levels of automation and as our population grows, having just passed the seven billion mark, jobs in new industries and moving on from the old ways will be critical to keeping us all gainfully employed or at least appropriately entertained. Being the eternal optimist, the chance to extend a field of knowledge, and to do something we’ve not been able to do before are benefits of automation in my view. What becomes hygiene because of its predictability and therefore can be automated leaves us humans to move on to something new. It’s not for everyone, I know, but for many of us the challenge of the unknown is an exciting journey.

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