The Taming of Data – On the Value Train from Insights to Knowledge to Wisdom to perhaps Happiness?

Published by: Srini Chari

I recently attended the IBM #SmarterAnalytics Summit in New York City that focused on #Analytics and #Optimization. The sessions and the client panel in particular were superb and enlightening. Beyond, the typical discussions on technology, the IBM client panel repeatedly emphasized that organizational and cultural changes were critical to properly implement and integrate #Analytics and #Optimization as core business process.

This re-sparked a train of thoughts in my mind. I even got to test these thoughts a bit later at the evening reception. On my train ride back home, this train of thoughts on how to tame this avalanche of data for mankind’s (including corporations) benefit continued to escalate. I thought I should transcribe this train of thoughts quickly before it crashes and bursts into some forgotten cloud! For this my Cloud Mobile (iPhone) with Speech Recognition Software (Dragon) came to my rescue.

On Data, Words and Deeds, and Ephemeral Social Media

It’s well recognized by IT industry experts that data by itself has little value. It’s what you do with it that generates the value. It reminds me of Lech Walesa’s quote “The supply of words in the world market is plentiful but the demand is falling. Let deeds follow words now.” Or simply put, in an anonymous quote, “talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand”.

I am not suggesting that we clamp down on the supply of words. That would be tantamount to curtailing free speech. We must take a thoughtful approach and critically examine the hype around #Bigdata – primarily perpetuated by the IT industry for which, as an analyst, I am also guilty.

Also guilty – contributing to the excess supply of data – is the recent spate of growth of “unstructured” data: images, video, voice, pictures and others. Probably because many believe that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And a video even more! Every time I hear this oft used cliché, I think REALLY? WHY? Why are we creating all these quantities of image/video data and spending our precious resources (our time) doing so? More importantly, why are we so enamored with transmitting this data to others?

Yes, new social media and the underlying technologies give each and every individual enormous capability for creative expression and even contribute to the overthrow of oppressive regimes e.g. the Arab Spring. But aren’t we collectively trampling on another form of creative expression – the thoughtful reflective kind by drowning each other in all this data? Or aren’t we being distracted by all these images that like fast foods fill us up to sated exhaustion but have very little nutritional value?

But Some Words do Matter. Some Words are better than Exabytes of Pictures (or Words) and they Persist!

Here are some poignant examples. This is what the great contemporary Scandinavian poet, Tomas Tranströmer (translated by Robin Robertson), wrote about words:


Sick of those who come with words, words but no language,

I make my way to the snow-covered island.

Wilderness has no words. The unwritten pages

Stretch out in all directions.

I come across this line of deer-slots in the snow: a language,

language without words.

And the great 20th century Mexican poet, Octavio Paz (translated by J. M. Cohen), wrote:


If the white light of this lamp

is real, and real

the hand that writes,

are the eyes real

that look at what I write?


One word follows another.

What I saw vanishes.

I know that I am alive,

and living between parentheses.

Distinctive Numbers – God’s Equation Then and Now – Hey It’s All Just Zeros and Ones

Just like profound and wise words, there are some distinctive numbers (data) that also matter: zero and the imaginary number i and those irrationals Pi and e. And then there’s Euler’s God’s Equation of centuries back: e ^ i2π = 1. Thus, the “simplest” and most fundamental of all numbers (Numero Uno) is incredibly complex, made up of irrational, transcendent constants that extend to infinity. Now, the more contemporary version of God’s Equation (circa 2007) is the fourth album by the Norwegian progressive metal band Pagan’s Mind and contains video clips! But hey, today it’s all just digital data which are, at the end of the day, zeros and ones – the two most fundamental numbers. So why are we all making such a hoopla!

Because we must traverse that Divine Manifold from Data to Information to Insights to Knowledge to Wisdom and perhaps Happiness

Data is plentiful (all the data generated today can’t even be stored!), and left untamed is bound to be catastrophic. So we (corporations included) must harmonize all our assets and capabilities (people, process, data, technology, and culture) to navigate through this data onslaught and traverse the Value Train with the help of yet another God’s Equation: This new equation must transform Data to Information to Insights to Knowledge to Wisdom. One recent noteworthy technology asset for this journey to wisdom could be #IBMWatson.

That great wise soul, Mahatma Gandhi, once said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” So the Happy (and Wise) enterprises of the future in our data-driven world will be those that can act and culturally transform themselves through change and a complete re-think of strategy – just like the IBM client panel repeatedly emphasized – those were divine words! And they matter! Act on them! The customer is always right!

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