What Big Data Doesn’t Appear to Tell Us, But Actually Does

April 1, 2013
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While researching Too Big to Ignore, I discovered that Big Data is already having a major impact on a wide swath of industries and functions. It’s interesting to note, though, that what the data doesn’t appear to say can actually say quite a bit.

While researching Too Big to Ignore, I discovered that Big Data is already having a major impact on a wide swath of industries and functions. It’s interesting to note, though, that what the data doesn’t appear to say can actually say quite a bit.

In How Big Data Is Changing the Whole Equation for Business, Stephen Rosenbush and Michael Totty write about the impact that Big Data is having on the world of business. From the article:

big data missing pieceBig Data is also changing hiring. Take Catalyst IT Services, a Baltimore-based technology outsourcing company that assembles teams for programming jobs. This year, the company will screen more than 10,000 candidates. Not only is traditional recruiting too slow and cumbersome, the company says, but also the subjective choices of hiring managers too often result in new employees who aren’t the best fit.

“You need to be able to build models that help you take that subjective view away,” says Michael Rosenbaum, Catalyst’s founder and chief executive.

So, Catalyst asks candidates to fill out an online assessment—a move that many companies are making these days, most famously Google. Catalyst uses it to collect thousands of bits of information about each applicant; in fact, it gets more data from how they answer than what they answer.

For instance, the assessment might give a problem requiring calculus to an applicant who isn’t expected to know it. How the applicant reacts—laboring over an answer; answering quickly and then returning later; or skipping it entirely—provides lots of data about how someone will deal with challenges.

Someone who labors over a difficult question might fit an assignment that requires a methodical approach to problem solving, while an applicant who takes a more aggressive approach might be better in another setting.

Think about the ramifications of things like this.

New Questions and Answers

No longer will we be required to assess people (say, students, customers, or potential employees) by a simple score. How long they took to answer questions or make purchases (or not) can serve as a very effective gauge of future performance–and areas in which improvement is needed.

Sai Khan of Khan Academy has made the same point about assessing student performance. Through data, we will be able to determine which parts of a subject give a student difficulty. For instance, no longer will be confined to statements like “Jill struggles with geometry.” Rather, will be able to ascertain which parts of geometry give Jill the most trouble. Maybe she just doesn’t get along with cotangents and cosines.

Simon Says

It is incumbent upon everyone in business (from CXOs to entry-level employees) to realize the vast potential of the Big Data opportunity. New ways of thinking and addressing problems have arrived; they’re not just for early adopters.

Realize that information inheres a tremendous amount of value–and not just the traditional kind. Start asking yourselves what we know, what we don’t, and how we can bridge that gap. Short answer: through data and technology. There’s gold in the streets for those who understand the enormous potential of Big Data.

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(big data missing piece / shutterstock)