On Tuesday 30th April, Jacqui Taylor held a workshop in one of RADA’s rehearsal studios at thefuturestory – Today, part of our thefuturestory platform, named ‘if Big Data is the answer, what is the question?’. Jacqui Taylor is a web scientist who works with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and is a mentor at Tech City on the Google campus (I know, clever hey?). In the workshop Jacqui gave ten people, including me, a glimpse into how to work their way through the overwhelming subject that is Big Data. The biggest message we took away from the session was that it’s not Big Data, it’s just Data, and it’s certainly not something we (as communicators) should run away from. In fact: quite the contrary. Big Data seems to be the hot topic on everyone’s lips at the moment and considering I didn’t know what it meant a month ago, I assume there are many that still don’t. Though I’m sure you all know what Big Data is, I’ll start with a definition because I’m still finding it hard to define myself: Big Data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. (Courtesy of Wikipedia).

Jacqui began by framing Big Data within the principle Sir Tim declares for the Internet and just as the World Wide Web “is for everybody”, the data that the web generates is for everyone too. Jacqui reiterated that it’s important that we socialise data, do ‘good’ with data as it were.  In 2012 there were 2.7 zetabytes (trillion gigabytes) of data on the web. Apparently that number is doubling every two years and with all this new data comes new insecurities and challenges such as privacy, accuracy and relevance for example.

With this in mind, all organisations have an awful lot of data available – some of it already within their own organisation, but increasingly, even more available on the outside. You need to know your company better, decide how you can benefit from it, and choose the route through it. You can then use it to improve business on all kinds of levels, from forging better relationships with customers to analysing your results to long-term resource planning. And what’s more, communications (internal and external) specialists are in the best position to take opportunities like this with their 360 degree perspective and the insight that brings.

Jacqui explained that it’s not all about the data itself, but in most cases, it’s the way in which data is presented - often visually - that allows you to cut through the masses. If you look at data as a series of unrelated stats, for example, you gain no clarity. Data in the right hands can give you the information you need to improve your business. But alas! There is so much that defines data.

And that leads me to Jacqui’s eight Vs: she used these to talk us through the basics:

Volume: how to tackle the amount of data available now and in future. Velocity: the speed at which data is coming to you. Variety: unstructured, semi-structured or nano-structured data of different types are now being blended together – how to make sense of it. Variability: working with data from different era and sources and getting rid of data that isn’t relevant. Value: this is the most interesting aspect for most of our bosses: how to drive value from the data you have.  Most companies are sitting on an ‘acre of diamonds’, as Jacqui calls it, but you’ve got to mine it to find it. Volatility: how quickly data changes: how long is data useful for? In some environments, like the stock market for example, data is constantly changing, and fast. Validity: how valid are your sources? Viscosity: refers to the clogginess of some companies’ infrastructure – where legacy systems or just old systems act as obstacles to the flow of data.

We are only on the very edge of Big Data at the moment. It seems clear to me that this only the beginning of something massive that we all need to jump on board with. Every entity whether individual or government or brand is looking at data and Jacqui works right across the board, from UK government to global brands, whilst maintaining an important role in concerning herself with what benefits individuals.

What do we do now though? To start with, I think we can use this opportunity to discover Big Data ourselves and engage others in using it to its full extent. And that’s a very full one at that. I’ll leave you with this great video: Data is making our world a better place and one thought. Big Data is a tool that we can use to make business better. We just need to work out how to use it.