Key Chapter Points
Five aspects of the digital economy are converging to create the Big Data phenomenon:
- The Consumer Internet
- The Industrial Internet
- The Internet of Things
- A growing digital data collection industry
- New technologies for collecting and interpreting unstructured, Internet-based data
- As a result, an unprecedented amount of digital data is being created all around the world.
That provides opportunities to leverage Big Data in four ways:
- To provide unique insight into trends or correlations not previously understood
- To collect customer data that can be used to improve sales and service and for targeted advertising
- To sell customer data as a separate profit line
- To create industrial supply chain efficiencies using mostly machine-to-machine data
The phrase Big Data appears a lot in the media these days. It is used to describe a statistical approach to genetics or epidemiological projects, the sequencing of DNA, and also to explain the new search and storage technologies that allow companies to scan different types of online media for “sentiment” data. Many people, hearing the phrase, think of Google, or possibly the NSA, and the implications of collecting and selling personal data on civil liberties and privacy. Others see it manifested in new technologies like Hadoop, or cloud computing, or the coming Internet of Things. Some say Big Data is revolutionary; others that it is all overblown, an unnecessarily capitalized sobriquet for injecting excitement into what is simply the next evolutionary phase in the advancement of information technology. (In a nod to that breathless enthusiasm with which so many talk about the phenomenon, I have capitalized Big Data throughout the book.)
It can be argued that Big Data is all those things, and yet not limited to any one defining characteristic, making it a “big thing” in the sense that all these various interpretations are a reflection of a larger process of technological and economic change that is just now beginning to mature and manifest itself in what I refer to as the Big Data-intelligence complex—a group of wealthy and influential companies and government agencies responsible for the myriad of technological developments powering growth and innovation in the economy and revolutionizing how we communicate, entertain ourselves, and interact with others throughout the world.
Is Big Data revolutionary and transformational? Probably so, by historical standards, although it may not really matter whether it is a process of evolution or revolution, or even whether Big Data (in all its manifestations) qualifies as a transformational technology in the manner of electricity, the telephone, or the internal combustion engine. That debate seems to me to be just a marketer’s way of trying to label (and glamorize) an amorphous and rapidly changing group of technologies. But however it is described, it is important to consider where Big Data as a broader phenomenon takes us over the next decade, because the emerging Big Data-intelligence complex is already proving to be both rambunctious and irrepressible, introducing innovation at a rate that is almost impossible to follow, much less regulate. That has implications not just for civil liberties and personal privacy (which are already significant), but for the way in which our businesses, our global economy, our laws, and even the relationships between nations, develop in the future.