These days you can barely read an article without being hit in the face by a buzzword or two, and one of the most frequent is “big data.” It’s often mentioned in almost-whispered tones, as if this is something we should all know about (and perhaps pay homage to!). But what even is it?

A Brief History of Data

At the beginning of time there was no life and, as amazing as it is to hear this, there was no data either! While life quickly exploded into all sorts of weird and wonderful plants and animals, data just sat there, on the side-lines, continuing to not exist. How disappointing!

Eventually, after millions of years, one species (hint: humans) started to develop certain skills to levels beyond what any other species had achieved. Two of these skills, communication and creativity, meant that we could start to measure things in a standardised way and record those measurements. Data was born! Those values (so let’s say I wrote down “34,28,33,35,23,28”) are the data – it’s a record of something. Once we give it context (for example, I write “Temperatures (C) for the week of 07/11/2022) it becomes Information. But let’s get back to data, shall we?

At first there were only written recordings and it took a few thousand years to change that, with audio coming first and then video. If you had the right way to replay them (so by putting a CD in a CD player, you’re giving it the Context it needs to play music) then whatever was recorded could be played back.

What came next?

The real quantum leap came with the arrival of the first computers and, later, the internet. Suddenly we had the ability to record and exchange data at unheralded speed. That brings us to where we are today, where almost every aspect of our lives can be recorded in a digital format, whether we want it to be or not, thus growing the amount of data that’s gathered exponentially.

If you have GPS enabled on your mobile phone, that’s one data set that’s being recorded. If you take a picture for social media, that’s another. When you buy something from a shop, the transaction is recorded by the shop’s stock system, by the payments processor and by your bank or credit card company – that’s multiple data points in one transaction. Supposedly, across the entire world, more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data are captured every day.

As you can imagine, this is where “big data” comes in – but what’s the specific difference between “regular” and “big” data? Frustratingly, there’s no one accepted definition of ‘big’, so let’s fall back on my trusty old friend; the metaphor. Imagine you turned a tap on and you got a nice steady stream of water, flowing in a uniform manner. That’s regular data. You could easily fill up your cup (utilise or process your data) from this tap. Now imagine the tap exploded, and water started violently spraying everywhere at a ridiculous speed, and in all directions, seemingly increasing in amount and speed all the while. That’s big data! Just like the water, there’s so much of it, flying around so quickly and randomly that it would be impossible to catch it all in a cup (utilise or process it), even if you had some kind of super speed capabilities.

Now imagine that somewhere else in your house another taps just exploded. And another. And another! Your whole house is flooding with data!

Wow, this is a stressful metaphor… So, what am I supposed to do with all this data, that’s metaphorically flooding my house? Should I turn the water off? Or fix the tap so it comes out more slowly?

You could do that, yes. But, let’s imagine that water/data has value to it, and that the act of it flowing as fast as possible could actually be a really good thing, if only you had some way to manage it.

Is that even possible?

It is! There are a variety of solutions out there that can capture, organise, and redirect the many sources that are inundating your organisation with data. However, the best ones like (here comes the plug) AssetHive Intelligent Data Hub don’t just collate it – they can intelligently redirect or action the data too. That’s why some of our presentations refer to AssetHive IDH as being like “digital plumbing” or “digital wiring” – a huge torrent of water or electricity is no good, but a responsibly managed and distributed supply is what brings you heat, light and entertainment.

The same goes with data.

And just like your wiring or your plumbing, if you do it right it should just work and you shouldn’t really have to think about i – just sit back and enjoy it’s benefits. Data can work that way too. In most scenarios the idea of working somewhere without plumbing or lighting seems like a pretty challenging idea, and if you’re lucky enough to already be part of an organisation that can seamlessly connect all it’s different sources of data without the need for copying & pasting or double-entry, then you’ll agree what a difference it can make.

If you’re not quite there yet, then you may well be surprised just how easy it is to make it a reality, with the right toolset.

In Conclusion

‘Big data’ is what we call a data set that is growing at an almost terrifying rate, far too much to get on top of by traditional means. With tools such as AssetHive Intelligent Data Hub you make big data work for you, connecting your systems seamlessly, unlocking new insights and giving you the possibility to superpower your organisations operating, reporting and collaboration capabilities.