Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Big Data, Big Future: What about the Information Professions? Big Data Presents a a Vastly Important New Opportunity for Us

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Big Data, Big Future: What about the Information Professions? Big Data Presents a a Vastly Important New Opportunity for Us

Article excerpt

The winter and early spring of 2012 have seen a whole new level of excitement on the topic of Big Data. The idea of Big Data--certainly the meme du jour these days--was already sweeping through society and the academy at a fast clip. The tenor of speculation about Big Data took a more serious (and interesting) turn in the wake of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where its potential to remake the marketplace, and perhaps even to drive more effective economic development across the globe, was a major topic. The New York Times, ever a worthy commentator on the topic of information and society, published a very entertaining column titled "The Age of Big Data" on Feb. 12, 2012. Forrester Research and Bloomberg have paid close attention to the topic too. The Times column cited a conference held by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) titled Opportunities in Big Data--as in, career opportunities. And as if all this weren't enough, here comes the initial public offering of Facebook, itself a major Big Data producer as well as the subject of Big Data analysis. Indeed, the reach of Big Data even informs the uniquely robust real estate market in San Francisco, which is seeing a dramatic uptick in home sales, involving multiple offers and exceeding the asking price. Reason: Qualified buyers are "rushing in" to beat the highly anticipated wave of Facebook millionaires who prefer San Francisco to Silicon Valley, driving prices higher. Big Data is everywhere, and it's gaining the attention of everyone.

The commentators I mention here address the potential of Big Data for society, but what about the information professions? In many ways, Big Data presents a vastly important new opportunity for us; the NBER was prescient to hold a conference about opportunities to come, and the same applies to the information professions. However, to get into the Big Data game, we may need to create our own opportunities. To gain the best strategic sense of what we can offer (as well as create), we will need to focus on two core activities. First, we will need to reach beyond our native sources of wisdom and practice--we need to think like economists or others who already handle Big Data. Second, we will need to collaborate with these like-minded data jugglers, quite possibly on their turf instead of our own.

Events are moving quickly now, so speculating on what is to come between the point of a columnist's deadline and the issue going to press is getting a bit tricky. Nonetheless, I will take a stab at Big Data, crossover thinking, and strategic preparation, by assessing some of the forces driving Big Data application. However, I have a feeling that the data manipulators among us, once they get started on their own, may trump what's being said now in short order. Certainly, I hope that is the case.

Data-Driven Management

Working closely with organizational behavior experts as I do, I've come to respect the tradition of trial and error in the real world of management. Certainly there are "fads" galore in the field of business administration, but it's worth noting that many of these fads (think Total Quality Management, Re-engineering, and so on) have their roots in the practice of observation, experimentation, and not least, intuition. Big Data brings nonnegotiable facts into the mix, enabling managers to base vital decisions on solid information, accumulated from a rich variety of sources and delivered in real time. The American workplace has embraced data-driven management, using web search strings, what's trending on Twitter and Facebook, real estate dynamics (such as my pre-Facebook IPO example from San Francisco), and much more. The term "data-driven" has made its way into the pantheon of library managers' feedback loops in the past few years too.

Data-driven management puts a more solid floor under daring business plans and has delivered results that can be quantified. For libraries, the challenge will be to move beyond our own data streams and include related data. …

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