Healthcare

What exactly is big data?

If you have even the vaguest interest in data analytics, you’ll almost certainly have stumbled across the expression big data before. Defining exactly what this concept is can be a little tricky, particularly given misinformed media representation of this principle and the use of big data as a catch-all buzzword. In this blog post, we’ll look at the definition of big data, and what we would need to consider when deciding if data falls into this category.


In a nutshell, big data is a term used to refer to large amounts of data that businesses have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s different to regular data in a couple of ways, and you can determine whether or not the information you’re dealing with constitutes big data by looking as the three Vs, a set of characteristics first identified in 2001 by data analyst Doug Laney:

  • the volume of data involved
  • the variety of data types
  • the velocity at which the data is generated, collected and processed

When determining the category your data falls into, we firstly need to consider the volume of data we’re dealing with. A common misconception suggests that big data simply means more data, while regular data involves smaller amounts of information. Although this concept is along the right lines, this is something of an oversimplification: to qualify as big data, it depends on not only more data, but data that is so unstructured, mixed, and accumulating at such a fast pace that conventional software techniques can’t cope with it. This is where velocity and variety also come into play: the speed at which this data is amassed and the type of information presented also determine if it falls into the category of regular data. By using the appropriate tools and methodologies, data analysts can make sense of these mountains of data – and we’re talking terabytes and petabytes here - turning this raw material into actionable insights.

Big data can be used in countless different ways, and its implementation in the medical field looks promising. The information derived from big data analysis offers healthcare providers the opportunity to better understand whatever it is they’re researching – be that patient feedback, drug efficacy, or the clinical trial process itself. Outside of the healthcare sector, big data can be used in a very diverse manner – be that providing better customer service, improving general operations, or personalizing marketing campaigns – essentially, any activity that might increase revenue or benefit the consumer.

Due to a variety of reasons – namely, a lack of education and understanding of the analytics process within certain media outlets – big data has received a big of a bad rep over the course of the past few years. That being said, a growing awareness of the myriad benefits big data can provide is becoming more and more apparent. Perhaps as a result of more transparent information surrounding the data collection process, both businesses and the general population are increasingly seeing evidence of the advantages these useful insights can provide – offering tangible change in endless real-world situations.

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