What is “Big Data” anyway?

Wikipedia describes big data as:

“a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.”

In practical terms, I call it “the stuff of us.”

In business terms, Big Data typically refers to the emails, photos, slide presentations, Web pages, tweets, Facebook threads, blog posts, videos, and other bytes of information that are not easily stored in old-fashioned rows and columns. It’s the contextual layer from which we can glean information about what people are saying they have done or are planning to do. It’s real-time, predictive analytics–if we can figure out how to manage it in real time.

The challenge of Big Data is to make it small.

The value of this data is going to be when companies can figure out how to sort it and use it to make informed business decisions. What if you could tap this data to help you define your company’s strategic direction? What if you could analyze people’s words and actions to improve customer experience? What if you could mine the data to develop better products or services or to help select new markets to invest in?

This data doesn’t lend itself to turf wars and departmental silos. To use it, and use it wisely, is going to require companies to rethink the way they operate. Yes, it’s going to require a culture change, plus new processes to encourage people across your organization to collaborate.

Companies need to prepare for this data revolution and this evolution into a social business. Are you ready to get started?

Photo by Jonathan McCabe (Flickr).