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This chapter is from the book

Big Data Without Borders

So Big Data is about huge volumes of data from a wide variety of new sources. It’s also about business intelligence and analytics, storage capacity, and new search capabilities. It is all that and much more. As we see in this book, it is both helpful and harmful, good and bad. Big Data is part of an innovation continuum, and yet it seems to cross a red line into revolution. It can bring us extraordinary new insight into research, medicine, and customer buying patterns, and yet at the same time it potentially poses serious threats to long-cherished personal freedoms. It can create tremendous supply chain efficiencies and yet contributes to IT sprawl that threatens to overwhelm company IT departments. It will be the basis for the Internet of Things, but security breaches and data losses could cost companies huge amounts of money and compromise the personal data of millions of customers.

In the end, maybe a strict definition will always elude us. After all, when enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems came on the scene, they evolved and changed, adding functionality and modules, altering their focus, consolidating, and bringing out new products. It didn’t matter much whether we could describe what was happening at the time within tight definitional boundaries. If we accept that Big Data means various things to different constituents, and if we take all the effort associated with the four key benefit areas we discussed previously, the one thing we can say for certain is that the Big Data phenomenon becomes something that is remarkable in its scope and effect.

Whether we call this phenomenon Big Data, the Digital Revolution, mass datafication, or the birth of the digital-industrial complex, it is still all about digital data: producing it, capturing it, storing it, retrieving it, making sense of it, making money from it. And whether it is revolution or evolution, it is still going to be the focus of economic activity for the foreseeable future. There is going to be a whirlwind of activity with a few of the biggest Internet and retail players in the world being feted like queen bees by supportive smaller companies. There will be significant winners and significant losers, both in the business realm and in society as a whole.

That’s why even those who don’t have a Facebook account, never plan to program with Hadoop, and don’t care much about Cloud computing will still want to have some level of appreciation for what Big Data is and why all this is happening. For those who are in the midst of it all, for those wishing to be, or for those who worry about it but don’t quite understand what it is, the following chapters should help explain what Big Data is, who wants it to happen, and how it is likely to change all our lives. Because there can be no doubt that mass datafication and the era of data-driven innovation—and data dependency—means that the world our children live in will be very different from today.

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