Big Data and Records Management

John Davies discusses the role of records managers in making sense of Big Data - and explores five Big Data myths.

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Myth 3: Big Data will improve the world

Business gets Big Data which is why large management consultancies promote its potential. The business proposition is based on using:

  • Imagination
  • Clever analytics
  • Good marketing
  • Customer engagement

to produce:

  • Increased sales

Think about that when you next get an email from Amazon with recommendations or a set of vouchers from Tesco that spookily mirror some of what you regularly buy.  A friend of mine signed up for online grocery deliveries and was sent a checklist that contained all her regular purchases.

Big Data will make shopping a science.

Myth 4: Big Data can’t improve the world

The public sector and NGOs recognise that they can do much more with data and the time has come for governments and the third sector to catch up. In many cases, microfinance organisations, local government and community health centres, already collect plenty of data, but don’t make much use of it.

Esther Duflo and Abhijit V Banerjee give a good example of what’s possible in Poor Economics. They use data on 18 countries to show that “government and international institutions need to completely rethink food policy”. Prevailing wisdom says that we must provide food grains to the very poorest to protect them from starvation: Egypt, for example, spent 3.8 billion in food subsidies in 2008-9. Yet the data reveals that the poor are not desperately striving for more calories. Food makes up only 45-77% of expenditure among rural extremely poor and 52-74% among urban extremely poor. Nor is the rest of their household budget dedicated to necessities: alcohol, tobacco and festivals comprise a large part of the spend. A survey from India confirms this: the number of people who consider that they do not have enough food fell from 17% in 1983 to 2% in 2004. And yet children growing up in these families persistently show stunted growth from a lack of nutrition. From the data the real problem emerges: people are not literally starving, but their diets are not nearly sufficiently nutritious. Thus the best role for governments is not to provide more staples like rice, noodles or wheat, but to provide or subsidise more nutritious foods.

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