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Big Data and the Lonely Wolf

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It has become more valuable than ever to gather data yourself as an organisation. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, search engines and other easy-to-search databases on the internet have been making more and more information publicly available: your competitors and the guy next door can see it too. So in order to have a competitive advantage, you’ll need more than what you can get from publicly available information.

Secondly, exactly because more and more information is becoming publicly available on the internet, the information you find there is becoming generally less and less relevant. The magnitude of the internet grows by 100% every year. Not seeing the forest for the trees or looking for a needle in a hay stack is putting it mildly.

When it comes to data, the only way to attain a distinct and relevant position is by handling it yourself: gathering it, analysing it and making it relevant for your organisation. Look at the renowned big names of Silicon Valley: Google, Facebook, Instagram. These companies are revered, all because of their position in the world of online information, and the money made from it. But the offline world too is becoming more and more searchable.

Last Monday was national iSPEX day in the Netherlands, during which 5000 Dutch iPhone users used their smartphones with high-precision global positioning – to measure harmful dust particles in the air. Similar devices are in development for testing the safety of drinking water, but also to tell if a piece of meat in your supermarket really is organic. The Trading Standards Institute could become redundant within a week in that regard.

How are the major companies doing when it comes to information gathering? Not very well, I have to conclude every time I’m on the phone with a call centre. “Can you tell me your customer ID, sir?” – while I’m sure I’m calling them from the cellphone number that’s in their database. For that matter, I’d rather not be addressed as ‘sir’ as a 26 year old either, considering I had to fill in my birth date when setting up my contract. And let’s not even think about companies like that having their act together with modern possibilities for gathering data from outside the company.

Unfortunately, in the large companies it’s often one lonely wolf who’s in charge of handling big data, getting co-workers to share “their” data, and finding a way to make the information searchable and relevant. And within organisations that are actually very advanced in the area of gathering data, it’s also lonely wolves who have to remind everyone of the limitations set by privacy laws.

Unfortunately, one lonely wolf won’t change the world. Unless his name is Edward Snowden.

This column is written by NewTeam-partner Danny Mekic’ on request of the Dutch Radio 1.