Industry, Weekly Digest

Big Data, Healthcare and Common Sense

You can hardly read any business journal without seeing something on the use of “Big Data.” This brought me to the question, what is “Big Data” really?

data dumpNaturally I checked Wikipedia: “Big Data[1][2] is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, creation, storage,[3] search, sharing, transfer, analysis,[4] and visualization”. Not a great answer considering all the fuss. I kept looking. . .

I found two very interesting posts. The first is Big data in healthcare: Lots of data but not enough analysis?  by Naeem Hashmi, chief research officer for Information Works.  He comments that “Under the umbrella of analytics, most vendors and presenters talked about CMS  (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)  measurements as part of meaningful use and value-based purchasing dashboards”.  He further states that “The reason why I call such analytics applications arithmetic is because 90% of the effort involves data acquisition from electronic health records (EHRs) and harmonization of the data before applying the measure rules for numerator and denominator — and none of these processes are analytical in nature; none of such measures use any statistical techniques or other cognitive assessment other than very simple calculation, i.e., arithmetic”.

The second is titled Forget big data, small data is the real revolution, by Rufus Pollock, Founder and Co-Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation.  Mr. Pollock states “… the discussions around big data miss a much bigger and more important picture: the real opportunity is not big data, but small data.” He goes on to say “For many problems and questions, small data in itself is enough. The data on my household energy use, the times of local buses, government spending – these are all small data. Everything processed in Excel is small data.”

This brings me to the common sense part of my observations: because of all the data available, big and small, we need to apply a cognitive assessment and develop rules or processes which are applied to the data, especially in the world of business communication going digital.

How do we make sure all the data available is used to bring relevant communications to the right person?  In my wanderings I have heard many examples where common sense was not being applied.  Three identical direct mail offers were delivered to exactly the same person/address, with only small spelling differences in the last name; sometimes these offers have the additional data point of the same birth month or date – “Happy Birthday! Enjoy a discount on . . .”   There were four recent offers from a major bank to do a mortgage refinance to the same person and same household they did a refinance with just months ago.  Rather than building a customer relationship, they are introducing a high frustration level and wasting their marketing budget.

We are all consumers as well as providers of business communication services or tools.  Let’s put the common sense back into choosing the right data to use to build, rather than damage, our customer relationships. If we can’t use the basic information we have – why are we looking for more?

About Richard Losch

Richard Losch specializes in driving operational efficiency through technology implementation and exchange, as well as strategic business process analysis. Things that don’t work well really get under his skin, so he enjoys fixing problems. Persnickety perhaps, but that’s what makes him so good at helping customers in the business communications industry to improve operating margins and quality and to integrate manufacturing, distribution, and service operations. Learn more at