Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Maximising the data brain

The brain is said to have about 80-100 billion neurons, and it is predicted that there will be over 31 billion connected devices in the world by 2020.

Thus, we are creating a huge global brain—a phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (IoT). These things are collecting data, and just to put this in context, 90% of all the data that exists in the world today has been created over the last two years.

We then need to translate that data and hopefully convert into actions, but is this happening?

I think this is not the case. So let’s talk about these devices—what are they? What they are not necessarily is traditional devices such as phones, laptops or tablets. There are different types and functions such as sensors and RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags, storing and retrieving information including the chip my cat has inserted in his neck. Even e-cigarettes can have a chip collecting usage data. This is both exciting and a little daunting. These things are gathering this data and storing for analysis but not in the conventional way. So we give it the grand title of Big Data and that movement trundles on unstoppable and accompanied by a global marketing monolith.

So this is where the analogy goes a little awry—whereas in the healthy brain the neurons are associated with triggers received from external stimuli, and produce a conscious or unconscious reactions, the neural network we are manufacturing is not always connected, and can in fact be working in isolated pockets.

Even within an organization supposedly working towards a common goal you often find the corporate brain is damaged. I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing’. No matter what you call it—Big Data, Data Lakes or even small data—if the neurons aren’t firing or communicating, it is a lone voice shouting at the sky.

Let me give you an example of where our brain associates data and acts accordingly. The brain has two visual pathways—the dorsal and ventral. The dorsal pathway—or ‘where’ pathway--looks at an object and makes unconscious decisions based on factors such as speed, distance and light reflected from the object and can lead to you ducking or moving to avoid the object. The ventral pathway—or ‘what’ pathway—adds substance to that image so that we know if it’s a dangerous animal we must keep running once we have avoided the object or stop if it is harmless. These two pathways—one conscious and the other unconscious—work in perfect unison even though they are processed by different areas of the brain. Now if we translate this to a ‘what’ and ‘where’ pathway in a corporate environment, we can quickly see that joined up thinking is not guaranteed.

So let’s take the ‘what’ as an accounting department looking at profit and loss and balance sheets and the ‘where’ as the sales organization looking at when we are selling and how we are doing it. Very often, these two pathways work in isolation and are not associated until it’s too late to run from the threat or grab the opportunity.

I fear that most organizations are data rich and information poor. Isolated pockets of data only give a limited view and can actually mislead. True power is gained when these isolated pockets are combined into a collective vision. So when you seek the full power of your data brain don’t forget to link those neurons. After all, you already have the best natural associative engine ever created between your ears.

The author is evangelist of Qlik, a US-based visual analytics company.

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