By: Brandon Cumby
As a long-time Excel geek, when the opportunity arose to attend an event called “Excelapalooza,” you bet your bottom dollar I jumped on it. I went into it not knowing exactly what to expect, but with a generalized idea. All expectations were surpassed with the quality of the speakers, peers, and programming. First of all, the courses were a good blend of Excel geekdom, business topics pertinent to software and accountant types alike, as well as some very hands-on product demonstration and training for BizInsights, an Excel-based business reporting and analytics solution.
What really struck me and stayed rattling around in my thoughts in the days and weeks after the conference was the keynote address, delivered by George McCann. The topic was the buzzword “big data.” A cursory search of the Internet reveals the current definition of big data as “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications.” To me, this sparks a curiosity, because it does not define what it is in absolute, concrete terms, only in comparison and what it is not. Further scouring of scholarly business-oriented articles about big data reveals to me that we are still grappling with two questions – “What is it?” and “What do we do with it?” I will come back to this.
Mr. McCann shared two facts that boggled my mind:
1) When the telescope from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) opened in 2000, it collected in one week more data than had been amassed in the entire history of astronomy. The new Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) commencing in 2020, will store in 5 days the same amount of data that SDSS will have collected over the 13 years since its inception.
Go back and re-read that and let it sink in. Okay.
2) Considering all the data collected in the world, we currently only analyze 0.5%.
Wild, right? Joe Hellerstein, a computer scientist at the University of California in Berkeley, calls [big data] “the industrial revolution of data.” Synthesizing all of these facts and observations about data collection and analysis has left me with a very succinct idea I wish to share with clients:
We are in the nascent era of big data and being able to collect, organize, and analyze data better than your peer group is a huge competitive advantage. Taking a macro-level view on it, it leads me to believe the next big breakthrough in disciplines such as medicine, business, or sociology is going to come out of being able to see some data trend and/or relationship that others don’t.
This is a conference that I highly recommend you attend next year. See you there!