When I talk to people about how I think that data analysis is going to be a big business opportunity in the future, I sometimes get funny or bemused looks. It can be hard to get over the point that this will be one of the best skill sets to develop over the next five years. It’s not quite what they expect me to come out with. Now I have somewhere to point them. The Economist recently published a special report on managing information titled “Data, data everywhere”, and I think that it covers a lot of the bases in a clear, easy to understand way. This will become a significant piece, and it is good to see “big data” dealt with in this depth and pitched at a relevant, intelligent audience.
Data … are widely available; what is scarce is the ability to extract wisdom from them.
The report is broad in its scope. The main points it makes are that data is being produced in greater amounts than ever before, and the rate of growth is getting faster. An organisation’s data is (or will become) one of its most valuable resources, to be mined to gain insights – increasingly in real time – and make big leaps forward. Other areas looked are data visualisation, the impact that wider access to data could have for a population’s relationship with its government, and the growing importance of metadata – information about information. Also examined are the companies that currently make use of the data they collect – no surprise that Google features heavily.
It is also good on the problems that will have to be overcome before the real benefit can be obtained – the quality of the data, the ability to access the information, the different types of data to be analysed. Privacy concerns and regulation will be massive issues to tackle. Using machines will be the only way to make sense of it all, and then a lot of the communication will occur solely between machines without human interaction, so the question of agency arises – where does the responsibility lie if things do not work as planned?
The data-centred economy is just nascent. You can see the outlines of it but the technical, infrastructural and even business-model implications are not understood right now.
I’m still figuring this stuff out. It is time to start going beyond the big ideas and getting stuck in. Even so, I’m sure that I’ll be returning to this report again.
• The Economist: Data, data everywhere