earth with the different elements

Entrepreneur magazine online has an article entitled “5 Ways ‘Big Data’ Is Changing the World“. A colleague of mine pointed it out to me, and another colleague told me to ignore it – it wasn’t very good. So, of course, I had to read it to see what I thought for myself. Bottom line, their “5 ways” is going to have little impact to those of us that live in the day to day world. So, I thought I’d write my own little summary on why big data is such a big deal.

As with many other advances in technology, the ubiquity of systems is what can have such tremendous impacts. Just think about the light bulbs, electricity, telephones, the television, personal computers, etc. That’s a set of technologies that had huge impacts that really changed the world. The invention of the Cray computer, while enabling physicists to predict weather patterns was cool – it didn’t have huge impacts for most of us. The Entrepreneur article is focused on things like the Cray computer.

Why I get so excited about Big Data and what it represents, is that I think it’s way more analogous to the personal computer. With the dramatic decrease in the cost of storing huge amounts of data, the ability to process information against that data set, and the analytical and technical skills available to setup these systems for just about any size organization, Big Data is going to be used to hundreds of interesting problems that we haven’t even thought of yet.

One of the really obvious ones that is already being explored and exploited is in the marketing space. Online marketers are collecting huge sets of data (including social data) to make connections and try to encourage customers to buy more of their product. But this is really just the tip of the iceberg as consumer electronic devices, RFID and in-store facial recognition will enable and even broader collection of data over the next few years.

And, of course, there is opportunity outside of marketing. Just think of all those existing data sources that live within so many companies – thousands of spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, conference call recordings, etc. Right now, that stuff is just so unmanaged and seemingly inconsequential. But once we start storing more and more of it, apply more intelligence to it and start to find ways to make it valuable to organizations, we will really see how Big Data becomes a daily influence on how we work.

It’s still early, and it’s hard to predict exactly what the “killer app” of the Big Data world is going to be, but it will certainly become prevalent. And it will certainly be changing the world.