NVTC: Does Big Data Matter?

Sarah Jones, August 12, 2015

This week on NVTC’s blog, Caryn Alagno of Synthos Technologies explains that every company is a data company, and every company’s data has hidden insights.

Suspend reality for a moment, and imagine a modern workplace in which the Internet was familiar to and available to just a few highly specialized individuals.

These trained, sought-after professionals were tasked with informing everything from product development to strategic positioning. No one else in the organization understood the possibilities that this mysterious “internet” could provide. Some companies developed entire strategies around it. Others ignored it. It intimidated some. Some thought it “just wasn’t for them.” Debates about its importance persisted.

Sounds crazy, right?

But this is exactly the current state of affairs with regard to large-scale, enterprise data management. Most of us know it as “big data.”

Organizations in nearly every industry are sitting on massive repositories of data that they either don’t know what to do with or haven’t considered activating. Some know precisely what they want to do, but are confused about where to start. In other cases, concerns around everything from security to privacy are paralyzing companies that instead should be mobilizing for a massive shift in the way they do business.

For many, “big data” is either scary or exclusionary. At worst, it’s both; and at best, it’s ignored. But the reality is, big data is neither. It’s more than a buzzword, or a trend or an initiative. It genuinely matters.

Companies in industries like finance and health care were early entrants into the big data space. Billions of securities transactions; where are the patterns that indicate fraud? Thousands of complex compounds; which one is a break-through therapy?

But every company is a data company. And every company’s data has hidden insights.

The same is true of government organizations and nonprofits. Setting aside security for a moment, consider the massive amount of information that organizations like the IRS handle. Each year, the agency processes more than 140 million tax returns. It estimates that it sent out nearly three million fraudulent refunds to con artists last year. The Government Accountability Office says that this form of identity theft has cost tax payers as much as $5.2 billion dollars. In a single year. Others think the number’s much higher. Everyone agrees it’s going to grow – and that it needs to stop.  Criminal activity is the symptom, but poor data management is the disease.

In 2013, the 25 largest non-profits in America raised more than $30 billion. Their missions range from promoting quality education and financial stability to caring for the sick and feeding the hungry. The same year, a study by the Non-Profit Technology network found that one out of ten of these organizations have no way of tracking how certain “engagement” behaviors (like opening or forwarding an email, or posting messages to social media) correlate with a person’s likelihood to donate time, donate money, or donate more of either. Understanding this connection, and making strategic programming decisions based on what the data shows, is critical to these organizations’ efficacy and longevity.

Making meaningful sense of massive amounts of information matters. Sure, the data is important, but the correlations within it are even more so. The tools that allow people to find connections in the data – and to then make more informed, more impactful decisions – will enable radical shifts in everything from productivity and profitability to innovation and to our very quality of life.

It sounds flowery and poetic, but it is an absolute fact.

Big data matters because of what it has the potential to change. But it also matters because it’s forcing an entirely new conversation about the ways in which we interact with information. Is database technology enough? Where does it fall short? Are search engines enough? Where do they fall short? Are there things about either of these technologies that could form the basis of something entirely different?

Related, who needs to interact with data? What could they do with it, and what would that mean?

Data is an equalizer – when we all have access to it, we all have the potential to use it for good in our respective arenas. Data is also a differentiator – and in the big data game, the winners are those who put data to its most effective use.  If that gets you excited, then there’s never been a better time to be a fan.

See full article here.