Drowning in data? Still no excuse for inaction!

Posted: 2016-09-15

Author: Dr. Satyendra Rana

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had a total understanding of the laws governing the reality around us? Imagine for a moment that’s the case. What would that really mean for us? Would we gain any advantage?

Perhaps, we would then be able to tweak reality to our advantage, or adjust ourselves to better cope with reality. But how do we define “to our advantage,” and do we really need a total understanding of the universe to achieve that?

The idea that we can understand the world around us has always been alluring. For all of history, humankind has been striving for understanding using a variety of scientific and nonscientific methods. The latest in that chain of efforts is the attempt to understand reality through its digital footprint. Armed with the strong conviction that treasures are buried in these digital footprints, we are feverishly devising more and more ways of capturing this data and building up an exponentially growing pile of digitized information, assuming that simply letting a computer loose on this pile will help us become continually wiser. The net result is data addiction and the Big Data phenomenon.

Rescue us, please; we are drowning in data! This cry for help is louder and louder these days, while the data continues to pile up at a higher and higher rate. Where will help come from? Will it be a temporary relief or a long-lasting cure? We all want answers.

We might be seeking advantage without being really aware of what is actually to our advantage. A business seeks advantage over either its customers or its competition; historically, this advantage was gained from information disparity–access to more and better data. In today’s customer-centric business climate, the advantage to be sought is primarily against the competition. With democratization of data fueled by open public data initiatives, and with individuals quantifying themselves ever more willingly, your competition has the same access to information and analytics tools as you do. Thus, in today’s world, any advantages to be gained from information disparity are difficult and short-lived.

If not from information disparity, where else does business advantage come from? And why do we keep on capturing more and more data, creating bigger and bigger data reservoirs? Business advantage comes from timely action, even if the action is not the best possible at the time. In our quest to squeeze every ounce of value from data, if we are not able to react in time, then our data and analysis capability is worthless.

Human brains have always dealt with more information than seems manageable. We may temporarily feel overloaded with information, but quickly bounce back and take timely actions to our advantage. By exploring and understanding how our brains deal with information overload, is it possible to apply similar principles in a business context to save businesses from drowning in data?

Welcome to the brave new world of Cognitive Analytics!

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