Tuesday, August 07, 2012

What's the big deal about big data?

Depending on what circles you travel in, you've been hearing about "big data."  This has become the rage; grabbing headlines and creating its own conferences.  The fact that we have been able to create digital information - even through digitization - has laid the foundation for big data. 

What is big data?  Big data is not the spreadsheet on your laptop.  It is data that is too large to handle, store, analyze and preserve without specific tools.  Michael Chui, a Senior Fellow in the McKinsey Global Institute, noted that in the United States, the average company with more than 1000 employees (in most sectors) have more data than the Library of Congress.  Companies that have a good IT and information infrastructure are better poised to capture the value from this data. 

If you are a special librarian working in a corporation, likely someone is talking about big data and making decisions about how to handle it.  Are you a part of that conversation?

The same is true for academic librarians.  Some agencies are mandating that grant recipients make available their research data.  Likely there are specific conversations occurring about this that you should be including in.

For many librarians, the big data at your fingertips is your circulation data or data created when your databases are accessed.  The conversation you need to have is with your software suppliers.  Are they creating tools that will help you analyze this big data?

This McKinsey podcast (18 min. MP3) will provide a good overview of big data and help you understand why it is important.  Yes, the entire podcast is geared toward business.  That's okay.  In fact, more library and information science professionals are pursuing working with big data in businesses, so this will give you an idea of why.

Podcast Description:
The amount of data in the world is exploding. Companies and organizations capture trillions of bytes of information about individuals, customers, suppliers, and operations. Meanwhile, millions of networked sensors are being embedded in the physical world in devices such as mobile phones and automobiles, sensing, creating, and communicating additional data. This so called "Big Data" has the potential to be aggregated, analyzed, and used to generate concrete insights and inform decisions. A recent study developed by the McKinsey Global Institute examines the potential value that big data can create for organizations and sectors in the economy, and explores what leaders of organizations and policy makers need to do to capture that value. McKinsey's research on Big Data is discussed by Michael Chui, a Senior Fellow in the McKinsey Global Institute who is based in McKinsey's San Francisco office.

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