What is Big Data?

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Big Data: What is it? How is it used?
big data background vector illustration. Data streams. Infographic

Technological developments are discussed heavily in the months after a breakthrough occurs, but they quickly become old news for those who keep up with the cutting-edge.

Many people outside the tech world, however, are often left wondering just what exactly the major breakthrough was all about.

In the past decade, an innovation that falls into that category is Big Data.

Big Data ranks right up there with The Internet of Things and self-driving cars as a tech advancement which was widely discussed among tech industry leaders and the media. But a vast number of people still are in a fog about the impact it has on their lives.

Unfortunately, there is no one, clear Big Data definition. It’s a complex topic, but one we will try to simplify for you.

Defining Big Data

Cutting through the tech talk, Big Data is simply an easy term to identify the large amounts of data that a business or organization produces in its day-to-day operations. It also refers to the collection and storage of that data for eventual analysis.

Here are different examples of Big Data use in business, healthcare, sports and science:

  • The online choices made by people on a site such as Netflix or Amazon.
  • All the data for patient treatments and outcomes at a hospital
  • The accumulated statistics of a baseball team against different pitchers at different ballparks
  • The collected scientific and mathematical information about all the observable celestial bodies

Researchers can analyze this data to produce better entertainment choices on Amazon and Netflix, develop treatment plans for hospital patients that lead to better outcomes and help create a more successful lineup for a baseball team.

And software programs can analyze the data from space far faster than a group of scientists, giving researchers more detailed information on the movement and behavior of objects in space.

And that’s the real key to Big Data. The capacity now exists to collect and store large amounts of data. However, correctly analyzing it and creating a successful plan based on that information is a far more important issue.

How Big Data Is Used Today

A turning point for Big Data – and life as we know it – happened in 1989, when British scientist Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. He originally intended to facilitate the sharing of information, primarily between academics, around the world and make research information available to all.

Eventually, the ability to connect computers all around the world led to an explosion in the amount of data being created. For example, by 1990 the University of California – Berkeley had conducted a study showing people around the world generated 1.5 billion gigabytes of information. By 2003, that number had doubled.

As businesses moved onto the internet, the potential for Big Data use grew quickly. Businesses now collect and analyze Big Data to better understand and target potential customers, optimize business processes, create better treatment plans for healthcare patients and yes, improve the performance of baseball teams (the 2016 champions Chicago Cubs are big proponents of data analytics).

Why Big Data Is Important

So, Big Data is simply a catch-all term that covers the collection and analysis of large amounts of data. However, the impact is large and complicated. As noted above, it is being used in business, healthcare, sports and science.

Data can drive success in all of these areas. Sports teams invest in players differently. businesses save money by making their operations more efficient and healthcare workers now have access to software programs that can provide information on patients collected from the vast amount of “unstructured data” in healthcare (such as doctor’s notes).

Big data’s relevance in the future will be important for the economy and the workforce. Software is being used now to help businesses make decisions based on Big Data in real time. Machine learning – in which machines can take on routine tasks without input from a person – is expected to take on a large role in the collection of Big Data.

More companies are expected to hire Chief Data Officers, a position that could join CEO, CFO and CIO in the executive offices.  More companies will emerge that offer services in Big Data collection and analysis.

If the past offers any predictions for the future, Big Data will continue to grow as fast as the amount of information available grows.

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