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‘Big Data’ is the Word – but Who Will be its Andy Warhol?

We’re sure you know that the 2011 word of the year is “occupy.” But what word do you think tops the list for 2012?

“Fiscal cliff” is a finalist as is “YOLO” (you only live once), according to NPR. But these words just don’t seem to have the same star power as the word that tops NPR’s list for 2012.

heroes images 2 Big Data is the Word – but Who Will be its Andy Warhol?What word is that you ask? Why “big data,” of course. (OK, so technically “big data” and “fiscal cliff’ are two-word combinations and YOLO is an acronym, but NPR refers to each of them as a word, so we’re sticking with this designation as well.)

“Big data” has emerged as NPR’s word of the year because it’s bolstered by the buzz it’s spawned in Silicon Valley and because it’s been tapped as the theme for the World Economic forum.

This year Harvard Business Review has dubbed the data scientist as the “sexiest job of the century.” And when it comes to data analysis, President Barack Obama’s campaign rather than Mitt Romney’s carries the day, which is part of the reason for his successful bid for reelection.

“What’s new is the way data is generated and processed,” NPR’s Geoff Nunberg notes. “We kick up clouds of it wherever we go. It’s only when all those little chunks are aggregated that they turn into big data; then the software called analytics can scour it for patterns. Epidemiologists watch for blips in Google queries to localize flu outbreaks; economists use them to spot shifts in consumer confidence. Police analytics comb over crime data looking for hot zones; security agencies comb over travel and credit card records looking for possible terrorists.”

Since big data is the word of 2012, what does 2013 have in store for the tsunami of data being generated from the Internet, sensors, mobile devices and social networks?

Well, there’s a lot of room for pioneers, according to a recent Forbes article. In “2012, 23% of the digital universe would be useful for big data if tagged and analyzed,” according to a survey that’s cited in the article. “However, currently only 3% of the potentially useful data is tagged, and even less is analyzed.”

But that data gap is poised to be bridged. That’s because there’s an increasing number of companies aiming to becoming data-driven, using analytics to guide business strategy and operations.

In fact, just more than half of the respondents to a recent survey note that they use analytics every day to guide the decision-making process. However, if the companies that plan to use analytics in the next 12 months (18.1%) follow through, nearly 70% of global businesses will be using data analytics by the end of 2013, according to the survey of more than 1,300 TechRepublic and ZDNet members.

But despite dominating tech headlines and being dubbed as the word of the year in 2012, the public at large doesn’t have the needed appreciation for the power of big data.

What big data needs is an iconic figure to drive home the importance of big data – to do for big data what Andy Warhol did for art, notes CMSWire contributor Stephen Fishman. Through his depiction of seemingly mundane items like soup cans, Warhol has inspired an appreciation for art in countless people, Fishman asserts. Bill Gates has had a similar impact on technology, bringing IT from the back room to the boardroom.

“Warhol did not invent pop art,” adds Fishman. “[Michael] Jordan did not invent the slam dunk. Gates did not invent personal computing. Jobs did not invent UX design. What they all have in common is that they took their banal domains so far into the territory of greatness that they made them not only matter to people, they made them matter to society at large.”

Big data’s Warhol likely will bring an insight into big data that reveals to the public that large societal problems do not exist the way they have historically been viewed, he adds.

“They will apply a qualitative lens to a topic that is currently defined from without and within by quantitative parts,” he notes. “The factor that will hearken the coming of a new dawn will be when people around the world, regardless of background or education, start talking about and appreciating the value of all data and how it impacts their lives for the better. Get ready. He or she is coming.”

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