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Big data: does bigger always mean better?

Data has served for decades as a memory bank for companies — the hidden treasure of archivists and accountants. After gradually finding a place in the strategic planning of organizations, data now lies at the heart of what many commentators believe will be the next digital, economic, and social revolution. Here is a closer look at the “big data” phenomenon.

Personal data are the ‘new oil’ of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world

In the space of just a decade, everything has become data. At the turn of the millennium, the amount of personal data held on an individual was about 800 GB. Ten years later, that figure is 3,000 times higher. This goes to show that access to information is increasingly widespread and perhaps a new El Dorado.

The main benefits for companies that know how to take advantage of the situation include:

• Decision-making based on more robust criteria
• Crowd sourcing in direct contact with customer expectations, requirements, and opinions
• Ability to identify, model, and test new services
• Improved risk management

But not all data is worth exploiting! Before embarking on any big data project, a serious choice needs to be made about what information should be processed. Only the most relevant should be retained, as more is not always better. Thomas C. Redman (Cutter Consortium) stresses that, when it comes to defining data specifications, it needs to be a company-wide project that goes well beyond the IT department. “Make sure the data is properly defined for the organization, that its quality is monitored, and that it is shared at every appropriate level of the company. Data should never – never – be treated as an esoteric language belonging solely to technicians!” While many professionals are concerned about winning the “Petabyte race” (i.e., obtaining the most data possible), attention to detail should not be taken lightly: After big data, can we expect to see better data?

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Big data: does bigger always mean better?

Business Digest no. 229, September 2012.
Based on “Why Detailed Data Is As Important As Big Data” by Sam Ransbotham; “Make Data Work Throughout Your Organization” by Thomas C. Redman; “Six Provocations for Big Data” by Danah Boyd and Kate Crawford; “In Defense of Small Datas” by Caribou Honig; “The Deciding Factor: Big Data & Decision-Making”; and “Big Data: Driving Adoption Across Europe”.

Watch our video
Big data, new physics

Jeff Jonas, of IBM, discusses trends in data analysis during ‘The network effect’ session at The Economist’s Ideas Economy: Information 2012 event in San Francisco, California.

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She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.