Big Data Myths and Realities

Big Data has become a buzzword in the digital age. There is lots of rhetoric and little substance in much of the discourse. Here I explain what it is and how it may be used effectively.

What is Big Data?
Big data is essentially large volume streams of unstructured data. It is the sort of data that financial transactionas are made up of daily. It is the sort of data that customers provide to retailers when they make purchases. It is the sort of data that Google Analytics capture tracking visitor behaviour to websites. Big Data is definitley a hot topic for the supply chain community. It offers the potential to transform the ways in which supply chain service can be structured for customers. If you know what the customer wants it is easier to meet their requirements. If customers do not actually tell you what they want face to face their observed and tracked behaviour might just help. So if organizations can find ways of analyzing data streams meaningfully they can predict what customers might want or how they might behave in future.

Using Big Data Effectively
However, the old adage that we can be data rich but information poor is still relevant. If we are unable to interpret data meaningfully then we will not be able to take advantage of the data streams. Organization and analysis are the two key parts to understanding ‘Big Data’. First, we need to know how the data is structured so that we can analyze it using appropriate algorithms. Secondly, we need to ask the right questions of the data we receive in real time. ‘Big Data’ may tell us what is happening. However, what ‘Big Data’ might not do is tell us how or why it is happening. To know what is one thing but to know how or why is also important in many circumstances. Take the example of an epidemic. As a virus spreads throughout the world we may be able to track its growth as people use search engines such as Google to see what is happening. As people become more concerned about the spread of a virus they will search more hoping to find something that can help them. Google analytics will observe and report information from this streaming data search. The data will not tell us how the virus spread, how it is treated or why it has spread.
(c) 2016 Tony Hines



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