Everybody’s talking about “Big Data” these days. But as withany fast moving bandwagon, it’s good to get off once in a while and take stock of the direction in which you are going. So let’s take a look at the pluses and minuses of Big Data. We now have the technology to collect enormous amounts of information about people and to analyze huge datasets that have implications for the economy, education, health care, and social services, as well as enterprises such as agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and much more. Having data is not the problem; the problem is using it effectively and responsibly.
Most Big Data operations are the same kind of brute force computation that Kepler did, only much faster. Big Data is the new panacea. It will do just about everything, we're told. But before we start planning for the era of universal peace and an end to disease and hunger which will surely come, it's worth pondering that the computation is only the middle part of the process.
Kepler was using the Big Data of his day, but he had to know what he was looking for. He had to use good, accurate data. And he had to have some idea of how he could use it when he found it. That hasn't changed simply because we can calculate faster.
Making good use of large datasets takes preparation and follow-through. Take health care, for example. Even when findings from Big Data have obvious disease prevention implications, people do not do what is suggested by the findings. Michael Hickins writes in CIO Journal that Aetna is using Big Data to predict which of its members is likely to develop cardiovascular disease. But even with this information, there is relatively low compliance with the regimen that will likely prevent heart disease. It’s not sufficient to have data. What's important is what we do with that data to change behavior of individuals, teams, organizations, and communities.
Darin McKeever, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a post titled "Moving From Big Data to Big Wisdom", makes the point that Big Data does not necessarily mean that people have the wisdom to improve organizations and society. That data must be turned into something meaningful. Data must become useful information. Useful information must become new knowledge. And it is that new knowledge that becomes the wisdom to bring needed change in new situations.
Getting to wisdom starts before data mining begins. It starts with key stakeholders coming together to decide what questions they want to answer, how the data will be collected and analyzed, what information can be gleaned from the data, and how individual privacy can be protected. It continues with learning from the analysis (knowledge) followed by generating the insights and wisdom needed to sustain change. Big Data, by itself, is not the solution. It’s what people do with that data and how it is turned into wisdom that makes the difference.