It’s not often you hear deleting data compared to medieval barbarism. But this is exactly how Economist Data Editor and bestselling author Kenneth Cukier describes the actions of hospitals that routinely expunge the reams of data collected during every hospital procedure.
Cukier sees this as a form of bloodletting, throwing away one of the most valuable assets of patient care, knowledge of what actually works and how, like a bloody syringe.
He believes it will only be by collecting this and analysing the massive data sets generated by the millions of daily medical procedures that we will take the next big steps in patient care.
As his analogy suggests, Cukier is passionate about big data and its ability to transform our world for the better. He knows what he’s talking about. His bestselling 2013 book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, is already recognised as a seminal work on the subject.
Cukier argues that big data has ushered us into a new era of empiricism, where what to play for is almost endless.
His thoughts, explored in two video interviews as part of the Quantcast Sessions series, should come as a wakeup call to any company that is not urgently exploring the impact of big data on its business.
Big data means that for the first time, any company in every industry, can monitor in real time how their product of service is being interacted with and adapt it in real time to the needs of the consumer.
As he points out, we’ve always had plenty of data. What’s new is our ability to collect, analyse and act on data sets of previously unimaginable size.
In fact, Cukier now sees the data a company is able to collect as a vital corporate asset, more precious and more valuable than the production of their core product or service.
This can seem like a nebulous concept to grasp, so he suggests a fascinating imaginary application. Delivery firm UPS in the US has somewhere in the region of over 70,000 vehicles. The costs of one of these being unexpectedly out of action mean it has fitted each with a range of sensors in the engine block that let it know exactly when it will be most likely to fail.
While this is obviously a business-critical procedure, the application of big data techniques could actually turn the data collected into brand new revenue streams.
UPS now holds incredible data on under what exact conditions – temperature, humidity, time of day and many more – engines are most likely to fail. Exactly the sort of information manufacturers like Ford would find hugely valuable, for instance.
Big Data is far from just the latest industry buzzword. As Cukier points out, it could very well be one of the most transformational developments for human society we’ve seen since the birth of the internet itself.
For too long we have been making some of our most important decisions, in both the private and public sector, based on an incredibly small amount of data. Big data changes everything. Maybe it’s time to consider whether any of your company’s processes could be considered medieval barbarism and what big data could do to help.