Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


The New Frontier of “Big Data”

Posted on | December 4, 2011 | No Comments

The uses of database technology have been going through some dramatic shifts due to new storage, processing, representation, and transmission capabilities. Innovations have made data continuously cheaper to store, quicker to organize, easier to visualize and faster to transmit. As a result, various private and public sectors organizations are developing new data-driven analytic strategies to capture value from a wide variety of information sources and the large volumes data that are now routinely collected and stored.

The Internet has added a whole new dimension to the “mining” of data from outside the organization while user generated content has added tremendously to the “infoverse” of obtainable and usable data. Terms like “terabytes”, “petabytes’, “exabytes” and “zettabytes” are being used to describe the large data volumes that are in play now. Mobile and satellite technologies are adding yet more new realms of information, leading overall to what some are calling the era of “Big Data“.

A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office entitled Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity studied the implications of the “Big Data” phenomenon for a variety of private and public sector organizations; specifically healthcare and retail in the US, governments in Europe, as well as personal-location data globally that in itself they estimate could become a $600 billion industry. They concluded that the ability to capture, analyze, and visualize large data sets would be key to “new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus”. The research offered seven major points:

1. Data resources are now what economists call a factor of production. With land, labor and capital, they are integral to the production of economic goods and services that are key to the future viability of the US economy.

2. Big data can create value in a number of ways. The collection and organization of digital data can make information transparent and usable at much higher frequencies. Transactional data can provide useful performance information, assist management decision-making; and improve the development of new products and services while targeting them to individual customers.

3. Distilling value from mountains of data will become key for individual firms. Established firms, competitors and new entrants will continually compete to capture value from big data and develop data-driven strategies to leverage the scale and scope of companies’ access to data to drive innovation and competitive advantage. Data consultant Larry Mantrone, summarized the relevance of these trends: “Big Data tools offer organizations the ability to analyze information ranging from sales patterns and internal business processes to public perceptions of the organization itself. Current tools can even process data that isn’t stored in relational databases, such as application log files, plain text or even Twitter feeds.”

4. The use of big data offers benefits to consumers, although the amount of information that can be collected is rather disturbing. Personalization capabilities reduce search and transaction costs for consumers and reduce marketing costs for producers. On the other hand, data collectors promise they can deliver anonymity by stripping identifying characteristics, such as a name or physical description, from the data collected. Terence Craig, co-author of Privacy and Big Data thinks otherwise. “We’ve seen the Netflix de-anonymization, the AOL search release, and others. There’s been several cases where medical data has been released for laudatory goals, but that data has been de-anonymized rather quickly.” This includes the medical records of former Massachusetts governor William Weld that were identified by combining the State of Massachusetts voter’s list with PII healthcare records by Dr. Latanya Sweeney, the Director and Founder of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard University. In her work on K-anonymity and the 1990 US census, she revealed that some 80% of the US population could be identified based on just three attributes: the 5-digit zip code, a birth date, and a person’s gender.

5. Some economic sectors like computers, finance, government, insurance and manufacturing are likely to experience greater gains of productivity and value from big data than other areas. Arts, construction, education; not so much.

6. Talent is a major issue. A shortage of some 140,000 to 190,000 people with “deep analytical skills” is expected in the US economy over the next 6 years. Also needed are another 1.5 million managers who can use the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data to make strategically effective decisions.

7. A number of ethical and social issues will continue to require scrutiny and policy responses. Protection of trade secrets and individual privacy will be crucial as well as the intellectual property and liability issues from drawing information from multiple sources. The situation gets more complex when you consider the use of third parties.

A practical example that provides interesting insights is the case of Google. The search and advertising behemoth is by most accounts the leader in the use of big data. A recent article in Wired magazine entitled “Googlenomics” discusses their strategies for gathering and monetizing the vast amounts of data they collect.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a professor of global media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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