Your friends and family have always known you as that techie guy or gal, the one they count on to set up their Twitter accounts or fix computer glitches. You’re pretty sure you’ve found your niche and now you’re considering earning a degree and finally becoming a professional.
But the tech world is ever-changing. It constantly shifts, morphs and evolves in response to the latest trends, tools and techniques.
But earning a degree while keeping yourself on top of everything that is cool and cutting-edge will put you that far ahead of your peers who are still focused on cracking video game codes.
“Big Data” is one trend that is taking the tech world by storm, shifting paradigms and creating a higher demand for IT professionals.
Whether or not you’re ready for it, in the words of one big data expert, “The avalanche has already begun.”
Beyond the buzzword: What is big data?
In its most basic form, big data is just that … data. Terabyte after terabyte of data. Put simply, big data refers to the massive data sets of personal information, spending records, demographic information, social media interactions, digital tendencies, and other web behavior that organizations (and governments!) can use to create value and develop insights about consumers.
For example, if U.S. healthcare used big data creatively to drive efficiency and quality across the country, some experts predict the sector would create more than $300 billion in value every year. Likewise, the governments of Europe could save around $150 billion every year just by leveraging big data to improve efficiency and cooperation across borders.
The most commonly recognized characteristics of big data are “volume, variety and velocity,” says Michael S. Davies, a data scientist and co-founder of Anaylitcs 2 Insight.
Most commonly, the term big data doesn’t stand alone but holds the hands of the processes and systems by which organizations analyze and package this data. If standing by itself, big data would simply be tons and tons of untouched terabytes.
Today, more and more companies and organizations are finding ways to organize, analyze, and ultimately utilize the massive amounts of information. Taking big data from terabytes to actual consumer insights is a growing industry and a race of sorts to see who will develop the most fool-proof processes.
Misconceptions about big data
With any buzzword come the misconceptions, and there are plenty about big data.
First, not everyone is using it. Companies big and small still haven’t figured out how to harness the massive amounts of information just beyond their fingertips. There are companies that need tech professionals to simply step in, introduce the topic, and generate insights into the value of utilizing this data in meaningful ways.
The second misconception, is that big data will become some sort of universal remedy.
“While it is a powerful tool for spotting trends and developing insight, it takes more than just extraction, tidying and loading (ETL) data into a new tool to deliver real insight,” Davies argues. “That takes a proper analyst to parse the meaning from all that data.”
Advantages & disadvantages of big data
For the consumer, it’s simple: Big data allows them to find what they want, when they want and even anticipates future consumer wants or needs. We’ve all had it happen once or twice. We’re planning a vacation and, after looking at tickets or purchasing some sunscreen and sunglasses, suddenly travel-related ads line the sides of our web pages. That is big data at work.
But, it all comes at a price, and some of the very personal data used to garner these results could be at risk of falling into the wrong hands. “Gathering big data must go hand-in-hand with protecting it,” says Craig Calvert of SmartProcure, a company that tracks and analyzes government purchasing.
But the benefits of big data seem to outweigh the negatives. For businesses, Calvert says, “Big data eliminates the guess work.”
Companies in the past may have had some data to work off of, but marketing or product decisions would happen with educated guess work at best. The volumes of information, when analyzed correctly, reveal explicit patterns and insights into what consumers will do, buy and talk about.
Even educators are utilizing the “no guess-work” benefits of big data. University of Akron professor Dr. Amy B. Hollinsworth found one question on her last exam tripped up a lot of students. She was able to narrow down the reason for their mistake to one word on the exam not commonly used in Ohio.
Instead of trying to guess, simple insights like this have helped her “know what students know” and solidify her curriculum based on that knowledge.
What’s the BIG deal?
By now you can see that big data is not simply just another tech trend; it has and will continue to rock the IT world and change the ways businesses operate at every level. Whether we’re spotting trends, anticipating product demand or understanding precisely how to market to a particular ethnicity or age group—big data is unveiling new ways for businesses to thrive.
Davies believes that this is why it’s so important for tech professionals go into the marketplace with a solid understanding big data. It is changing the face of IT and transforming how the industry relates to the rest of the organization.
There’s no stopping it. “The avalanche has already begun,” Calvert says.
If big data has been the first toe you’ve dipped in the water of tech trends, it’s time to really dive in.