The collection and analysis of data has always been integral to the functioning of society. From collecting taxes to managing a grocery store, data provides the foundation for most activities. But more recently, we’ve seen an explosion in data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence, which allow for even greater access to and manipulation of big data. That’s why it is unsurprising that such technologies have attracted so much attention from both those who wield them and those on the other side of their application.
In today’s world, big data is a ubiquitous term, but its meaning remains elusive. As a concept, it is fluid and its use grows ever more widespread. Big data can refer to any collection of large amounts of information over a relatively short period of time. To some it describes the means by which businesses can better understand their customers by analyzing their behavior and activities online; others use it to describe the potential pitfalls that the government might encounter when collecting information about people or monitoring their phone calls and other communications.
Although we may have difficulty defining big data, we readily identify some of its key characteristics, most notably volume and velocity (speed at which new data is generated). The volume of information being generated is growing at an exponential rate, as indicated by the growth in data centers for processing and storing the information. As a result, some believe that it has reached a "tipping point," meaning we need to crack the code on how to manage it and use it to its full potential. But not everyone believes that the massive amounts of data generated by consumers gives organizations any kind of competitive advantage, and many believe its volume will result in an ever-increasing amount of irrelevance. It’s not surprising that there are clearly significant challenges related to big data as well as plenty of opportunities for business innovation.
Given the number of companies and individuals researching big data, it’s apparent that, despite its many uses, big data is a nascent field. As with most emerging technologies, there is a tendency to overinflate the potential of big data and downplay its limitations and complexities. However, just as there are real challenges surrounding big data, those challenges are also opportunities.
Before we go further into some of the unique characteristics of big data (e.g., speed), it is important to understand some of the basic concepts necessary to navigate this subject. The concepts that will be discussed below begin with data quality (what constitutes good and bad data) and end with risk management.
Collecting and analysing such vast quantities of information presents challenges for both individuals and businesses alike, but the need for data only seems set to grow with time. With that in mind, it is important that you understand how businesses make use of big data today so that you can take advantage of this innovative field tomorrow.
An individual's perspective
The rise of big data has given individual users greater control over their own information, such as all the apps that you use to track your fitness, monitor your spending and pay bills. That's because many of these services are location-aware and can track where you are based on your smartphone. For instance, if you spend a lot of time in a restaurant or bar without buying anything, they will use data to decide whether or not to offer you better deals on food and drinks the next time you visit.
It is impossible for businesses not to take advantage of big data given how beneficial this information can be when it comes to helping them grow. The ability to monitor these consumers' patterns and preferences has enabled them to provide better customer service and increase sales.
Businesses have also been able to make use of this big data for more sinister purposes, such as the invasion of privacy that can seem all too common nowadays. In 2014, a worldwide outcry occurred when news broke that a company known as the Cambridge Analytica was harvesting 57 million Facebook profiles for political-related campaigns. The misuse of personal data will always be concerning, but it seems to be an issue that has become more pressing in recent years with big data becoming a bigger priority among many companies and governments alike.