Data Science

Cars, Patients and Potatoes – the impact of Big Data

BigDataRevolutionThomas, R., & McSharry, P. (2015). Big Data Revolution: What farmers, doctors and insurance agents teach us about discovering big data patterns. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley

As a “Data Enthusiast” I have been excited about the growth of data availability and utilization for years. In my opinion, the democratization of data accessibility is just in its early stages. Visualizations that bring data to life are making it so actions can be taken with a quantified approach. This revolution with the utilization of data for all business has just begun, which will improve the quality of life.

Early in the book, one of the lines that grabbed my attention was, “Organizations that do not manage to utilize their data assets will eventually become extinct” (Thomas & McSharry, 2015, p.7). For insurance, it states improvement will occur with “the many different sources of information that can be utilized to improve risk models” (Thomas & McSharry, 2015, p.58). I witnessed firsthand in the insurance industry that data availability will be necessary to industry survival, with the ongoing unpredictability of severe natural disasters and the increased regulatory environment. For patient care, the potential with big data is that it can allow doctors to “correlate data across different visits and conditions” (Thomas & McSharry, 2015, p.42). Aggregating medical data would help my doctor to have an even more empirical diagnostic approach, if I visit her with several specific symptoms. For farming, weather such as drought can be presently detrimental to production, as seen in recent years in California. But, it is predicted that with the use of sensor technology and data, “weather will simply be another variable in the overall risk management” Thomas & McSharry, 2015, p.28). Whether it is potatoes, soy or corn, the planet will need more food. Feeding the predicted 9 billion people by the middle of the 21st century will take strategy.

This book really spoke to me – perhaps a little bit too much. I already buy-in fully to the benefits of big data for decision making. The book states an important step in using data patterns is to “Determine where the lack of data is extending the innovation lifecycle and eliminate the constraint” (Thomas & McSharry, 2015, p. 191).  But for the business executive that wants to stick to gut made decisions, does this book encourage them to embrace the era of big data? I am not sure, since there is little provided in the way of examples of when a business did not succeed due to a lack of data analysis. Displaying the negatives of a non-data approach may help to influence the non bought-in reader.

The “Data Revolution” is coming, even for those who reject it. I imagine that the hesitance towards it is fear. Our job as Analysts and Data Scientists is to make it more palpable and easy for all to utilize. Brilliant visualization, better business decisions and an improved quality of life for all will help usher it in.

Colette Molteni
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