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The Difference Between ‘Big Data’ and a Lot of Data

The term “big data” gets tossed around alot these days. It’s a blanket term that is used - and often misused - frequently in regards to large stockpiles of data intended for analysis. There is, however, a difference between what characteristics make gathered information “big data” action as opposed to just a large quantity of irrelevant information.

What does it really mean?

When it comes to big data, Statistical Analysis System (SAS) Institute gives five characteristics that differentiate “big data” from just plain ol’ data.

  • Volume - The amount of data.
  • Velocity - The speed at which it is acquired.
  • Variety - The format of the data. (numeric data, text documents, etc.)
  • Variability - The inconsistencies in the flow of data reporting.
  • Complexity - The number of different sources incorporated into an analysis.

Big data is the result of many years of storing data and information from a variety of business operations without the technology to process it. As digital technology was incorporated into business, the accumulation of data has continued to increase exponentially over the past few decades. In reality, business intelligence is primarily taking everyday actions, like completing an online transaction using your credit card or using software to track inventory and materials, and looking for patterns and statistics that can be turned into actionable data.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s former chief executive officer, offered insight as to the sheer quantity of data being amassed in today’s business world “Between the birth of the world and 2003 there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five every two days.”

It’s important to keep in mind that data is only valuable when it is being utilized effectively. There has to be a human on the other end, using their judgement and experience to evaluate the results. For example, a business intelligence platform can tell you where there are bottlenecks in a manufacturing operation, but it can’t devise a strategy that will alleviate the issue.

Once it's been decided that a company is going to use BI and insight for business decisions, the challenge becomes finding the best solutions/tool available for their needs. When considering a business intelligence tool or platform there are some major factors to consider before making a decision. For example, BI solutions should provide businesses the opportunity to sift through data, determining what is useful and what is not. A BI report should not rely on an IT department, but rather allow an organization’s decision makers to review data insights at their own pace. BI reports should offer more than a spreadsheet crammed with information - as they are ill equipped to process large quantities or specific types of data. Aggregating data from several sources should not be a daunting task, but rather a way to look at one issue from many angles. And finally, it should offer predictive analytics for future planning, in addition to current actionable insights.

It’s time for businesses to take a step back and look at all of the data they have accumulated throughout their lifecycle. Odds are, there at least is some information that can be used to improve business, even if its purpose isn’t immediately obvious. Have you explored all the potential information that you have accumulated? Are you looking for a way to turn unorganized data into actionable BI reports? Contact IronEdge and our business experts will help you turn intuition into insight.

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