Big Data. What a glamorous word. What a scary word.
We use it and hear it daily. But does anyone really even know what it is? I think everyone I have asked this question to gives me a different answer. It used to be that people didn’t even have an idea of what it was. Then they associated it with the internet, and now…? Who knows. There seems to be no consensus on what it actually is. So, let’s try to get this straight. There are a few steps to understanding what Big Data is:
1. Ask Yourself (without Googling it, or reading the definition at the bottom of the page), What You Think Big Data Is:
Before I worked in the business intelligence and data analytics industry, I thought Big Data referred to the data that is created and retrieved on the internet.
I read blog after blog and article after article. And I still was still thoroughly confused. Even after all the research, I pretty much had the same conclusion as I did prior to researching: it had something to do with digital data.
This is the common misconception. Why? Because for a long time, no one seemed to have any idea what the word meant. Web behavior and social network interactions can be a part of Big Data, but they are not the only component.
Today, this misconception is beginning to change. Now, after I read blog after blog, and article after article, I get a better idea of what Big Data really is. Now, even Google has generated a definition. Soon, it should be a universally understood word.
2) Why Does No One Know What the Heck Big Data Is?
Although I think it is not long before everyone understands it, for now, not everyone does. For a long time, this puzzled me. How is it that people don’t understand exactly what Big Data is, when they talk about it all the time? Maybe it is just a buzzword, so people feel like they have to know what it means?
But it is actually not all that puzzling. For example, when I say “Apple,” what do you think of? It may sound silly…everyone knows what an apple is.
But is your apple red, or green? Or is it pink? Does it have a stem? What color is the stem? Does it have a leaf? Does it have a sticker? With a number on it? With a logo?
3) If Everyone Else Doesn’t Know What It Means, Then Why Should I Even Know What It Means?
The mixed definitions can often cause a plethora of confusion, that can result in major problems. You do not want to contribute to these problems.
Perhaps only half of your executive team truly knows what Big Data is. So how do you have a conversation about it? I sometimes find it difficult to have a conversation about Big Data, because I am not sure what others in the conversation define it as.
4) So, If Everyone Thinks of It Differently, Then What is the Point of It Even Being a Word?
Because it actually is a word! With a definition! But, because the whole data sphere is still emerging, it has not been as rigidly defined, or understood. I predict that soon enough, this will change. In the meantime, you can help spread the word about what Big Data actually is.
Like I previously mentioned, the definition is coming together. It seems as though major thought leaders have finally come to a consensus and published it. It is only a matter of time before everyone looks it up, and gets on the same page.
5) So What We Are All Here For: What Is Big Data?
Google defines Big Data as, “extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially related to human behavior and interaction.”
Wikipedia defines: “Big Data is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate. Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization and information privacy.”
Therefore, Big Data is not constrained to just digital data. It also includes traditional data. It just has to be a lot of data to be considered “Big” Data. Because there is so much of it, and it is typically so complex, it takes specialists to analyze it. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges for companies is the analysis of their data.
6) Now That I Know What Big Data is, What Can I Do With it?
So often you hear that Big Data means you can make better business decisions. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Alone, Big Data is just that…data. This is where the challenges come into play. Luckily, there are experts that can help you through those challenges.
Using advanced analytics, you can transform your data into insight. Predictive analytics can even help you transform guesses about the future into more accurate and reliable predictions (confused about what predictive analytics are?). For example, some say Big Data could have prevented the South Asia Earthquake.