At the top of the blue group of elements in the Table of IT elements is Data, often a critical part of the ‘what’ question in Projects, as in, what business changes, computer systems or software do we want?
Elsewhere in the table are Management Information, Big Data, and The Cloud, all important concepts in understanding why Data is so important to organisations. I mean any organisation that has customers, handles money, is responsible for sensitive information, is competitive (in its market), has to report to some regulatory authority, and a whole raft of other strategic and operational business drivers.
This primer will introduce some of the key terms and provide, hopefully, a taster of some of the bigger topics.
Data vs. Information
Let’s get this tricky one out of the way first. In my simple world, data are (plural) the things that we know about the things that are important to us! An example is needed I think. One thing of interest to a lot of people is the Car that they drive, as individual owners, but also the manufacturer and distributor, the organisations who get involved in providing spare parts, servicing, registration, tax and insurance. Let’s assume that somewhere there is a record of Cars with the properties of interest (also called attributes), such as Make, Model, Year of Manufacture, Colour etc. etc. These are the data associated with any Car (sometimes called an Entity or Class), and a specific instance of a Car. Data should represent an accurate view of the world – a single version of the truth.
A Car will not normally change its Year of Manufacturer, Make or Model. The Colour attribute could change (a re-spray?), but at any point in time each Car should have a single valid colour. It is important that the accuracy, or integrity, of the data are ensured for all concerned. For a slightly more meaningful example, think about the balance in your bank account, and what might happen if it were wrong, or has a different value in different places at the same time?
Information on the other hand is dependent on a context and interpretation of the data available. An underwriter or actuary in an insurance company, for example, may want to know whether blue cars are a better risk than other colours. This question may result in a query of the data for all cars that the company insures as well as the Claims history, another set of records (table) in the organisation’s database. This query will result in some information that the requester can use to make decisions with, or maybe to re-formulate the question. For example, does is matter how old the car is, or the gender of the driver or claimant?
The bigger picture
So to recap, data are required for the day-to-day operation of almost every organisation, Data also help to answer questions for decision-making and strategic planning (Business Intelligence), for internal Management Information, and for external regulatory and statutory reporting.
Big Data is a relatively new term for large and complex datasets, which require cutting-edge techniques and tools to analyse. Traditional relational databases and query technologies can’t cope with the enormous amounts of volatile data from diverse areas such as medical & scientific research, Customer online buying behavior, and currency market fluctuations.
The Cloud – or more correctly Cloud Computing – is not exclusively a data-related thing, but a general movement of technology away from local wholly-owned systems to remote managed services & resources (including data storage) that could be anywhere in the world, metaphorically ‘in the clouds’. Anyone who uses online social media or picture sharing websites is accessing the cloud, and more significantly this is where private and public organisations are moving a lot of their business applications (software) and data.
If you want to know more about Data there is a dedicated IT element here.
As always thank you for your feedback and comments
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.