As we celebrate the discovery of the New World, is it a stretch to say that data analytics and Business Intelligence are, in their essences, modern day tools for discovering new worlds. No, you can’t construct a planet with analytics, but a world is not just a planet. A world is first and foremost a mental construct, an understanding of what lies around you—that which shapes you, and in turn can be shaped by you.
Thus the world of medieval Europe did not include the Americas, because Europeans did not know they existed. And after 1492 Europeans spoke of a New World, previously unknown to them. (Meanwhile, native Americans spoke of troublesome intruders in their world.)
Making Data Coherent
Pure, raw data is not enough to create a world. Until the data is organized it may just as well be random noise, filled with data but conveying no actual information. To build worlds we must organize that raw data into a coherent form.
Literate civilization began with organizing data. About 10,000 years ago people in western Asia started using bags of pebbles to organize and record data about their herds. A few thousand years later this data-organizing technology evolved into the earliest writing systems.
It took a few more thousand years for data analytics to go much beyond counting heads of cattle. The next big advance came in the Middle Ages, when Italian merchants hit on the idea of double-entry bookkeeping. Data became more coherent, and this more powerful tool for financial data manipulation brought about the glories of Renaissance Venice and Florence.
That is more or less how things remained until very recently, when computers made it possible to start playing with data even more creatively.
Big Data and Alternate Pictures
For one thing, computers have allowed us to gather a lot more data—so much more that we now speak of big data. Yet big data would be useless without the power to manipulate and organize it. What is even more striking than the amount of data is the power analytics gives us to turn that data around and look at it in different ways.
And that is changing—enhancing—the worlds we can create. In the world of finance, we can now trace flows of value that previously could not be identified. And the power of playing with big data has created thousands of new worlds where anyone with a computer and an interest in how money works can put together sophisticated financial models with a few keystrokes and clicks.
These powerful new tools won’t solve every problem. In the world of Westeros, in Game of Thrones, more data patterns might not solve the problem of the Starks and Lannisters. (In the real world of late medieval England it took unlovable old Henry VII to solve the equivalent problem of York versus Lancaster.)
But if the power of analytics can’t solve every problem, at least it can help bring a fresh look to problems and possible solutions. And in the latest stage of building worlds this power to play with data is becoming simple and intuitive. Now analytics users can concentrate on creating patterns, without worrying about the internal mechanics of the pattern-building process.
What worlds would you like to build? Powerful, simple analytics and BI tools can help you build them.