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Everyone please, Big Data needs reflection

Every year during the summer the news stream here in Scandinavia is heavily impacted by what we locals call ‘Agurketid’ (red. Cucumber Season), which is a time of year when the media seemingly have nothing to report on, so they cover silly little (and sometimes pointless) stories. There are many reasons for that, but regardless, what I fail to understand is why this season isn’t used for reflection instead. I’ve been out of office for three wonderful weeks, having family fun, doing sports and reading books on a beach bed.

Provoked by the lack of interesting news my brain did a certain amount of Big Data reflection. When I wandered around in foreign surroundings, my mind opened for new impressions. I simply just couldn’t stop seeing the potential in data everywhere – and essentially identifying new information use cases.

Back to the lack of reflection. There are opportunities as well as constraints, which require reflection basically by everyone from the broader public to any leader – in business and politics. I see three fundamental areas to start with in order to create a new era of data-driven business and government.

The value in data. All leaders must understand that also their industries (will) change – some change so fast and radically that one could call it revolutionizing. So there is the value/opportunity aspect for sure, but when it comes to Big Data there is the very underestimated “cost of doing nothing” aspect. That cost is a specific threat and will hit the worst performers as out of business.

The information age is a reality and today everything moves rapidly – from products, services, competition to customers’ loyalty. An example of this reality most people can relate to is their bank. Would you have a bank you couldn’t access via the internet? One without mobile app(s)? Is a (physical) bank required and must it be located on the local corner? Most people, I believe, will answer no today, but yes three years ago. The banking industry is changing fast and will see new players from the “outside” like PayPal, Skype, Google etc. These guys understand data and are very visionary with new creative (bank/payment) products.

Sharing and access to data is essential. The funny thing with data is that by sharing (copying) it the value increases. Many leaders believe opposite and therefore act protectionist with regards to data sharing – internally as well externally. The Danish Government certainly doesn’t lead in this area, unlike the UK, but do have some limited Open Data initiatives and more to come.

On the business side, Kaggle.com (a company that facilitates competitions in order to find patterns in shared data) should serve as an inspiration, when you’re looking to get value out of data i.e. by combining your data with external skills like Kaggle’s users. Fundamentally, we need to set data free in order to bring our productivity back on track, as a company and as a nation!

Legislation. I’m not a lawyer, but in my perspective a faster world with “freed data” must require the legislation to adapt to the way we work and live our lives – and not limit innovation. The good old music industry issue of data sharing, whether it’s called ripping, copying or backing up is a good start if politicians need an example on what not to do. Legal issues around intellectual property, copyright, tracking, information usage etc. in a global world is not only a local issue. It requires attention from many agencies. Lack of attention will lead to misuse by the Big Data moguls like Facebook and other social media sites.

As a Big Data pioneer, I’m sad to witness that this new global resource, data, is generally managed and leveraged so poorly. If oil, people, money or other strategic assets were treated the same, it would have been covered and (over)exposed in the media. Regardless of whether you are a journalist, business leader, politician or just a citizen, we all share the responsibility of using the remaining ‘Cucumber Season’ sensibly, let’s all start doing some serious reflection – please!


About Stig Torngaard

Stig is Platon Practice Director for Big Data. He is one of the leading consultants in Platon and has more than 20 years IT experience with 15 years dedicated to BI. Stig founded Platons Microsoft practice back in 2001 and has worked as architect in the Microsoft Information Management space since the introduction of SQL Server 2000. The last two years the focus has been on Big Data and Advanced Analytics aspects of Information Mangement


2 thoughts on “Everyone please, Big Data needs reflection

  1. Great post Stig. I have also been reflecting on Big Data recently. I am excited about the possibilities it will enable but have concerns that many companies seem to be rushing to embrace Big Data before they get their internal data governance and data quality sorted. If companies don’t understand and manage the data they already hold, how can they hope to gain advantages from combining it with other sources of data?

    Posted by Nicola Askham (@Nicola_Askham) | August 13, 2013, 22:04
    • Thanks Nicola. You are absolutely right that Data Quality is a dark hourse in BI and to some extent in in Big Data. Having that said, I think that there is a tendency for a shift in mindset when it comes to Big Data vs BI. In organizations BI is usually hosted by the Financial people who expect that data to add up to a correct result. Big Data is not linked to Finacial people the same way, and i.e. Marketing people or various scientists are generally better at handling multiple data contexts and “business realities”. So for example the answer to “Number of customers by month?” must be precise and facilitated by strong DQ, where “how popular are we in the market?” will not have a precise answer and an order of magnitude will do.
      So I beleive that DQ and Master Data is essential for all organizations, but the lack of it is not nessesarily a show stopper bit data-driven innovation through Big Data:-)

      Posted by Stig Torngaard | August 15, 2013, 13:14

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