Know How to Handle Big Data?

Unless your past was a disaster, you find security and comfort in it. Many good things happened. You learned a lot, provided you paid attention. You observed what was working and what wasn’t. You learned how to apply technology to become more effective. But now it is time to let go of some 20th century ideas, skills and attitudes that are no longer useful in the 21st century marketplace. Consider how technology has exploded. How much longer will skills such as typing speed and one-to-one supervision be useful? What do you know about cloud computing as it relates to your job?

Tomorrow will be yesterday before we know it. At a meeting with chief information officers to discuss social networking communication and information management, the consensus was that they no longer control corporate communications. On the hardware side they are switching from personal computers to tablets. Instead of controlling data transmission, they are now into risk management.

With rapid change comes risk, but also great opportunity. I’ve spent more than 30 years helping HR people measure and report the value of their work in quantitative terms. We’ve advanced from defensive metrics to predictive analytics. Those who adopted metrics years ago are now prepared to deal with big data. Those who didn’t are entering a world where they don’t speak the language.

On Sept. 24, Fortune magazine ran an article that opened with, “The world we have made is one that can be measured.” It stated that from the beginning of recorded time until 2003 we created 5 billion gigabytes of data. In 2011 the same amount was created every two days. By 2013 that time will shrink to 10 minutes. By the time you read this column another 10 billion gigabytes of data will have been created. Do you believe you will have any meaningful role in your company if you don’t learn how to handle numeric data?

Big data is everywhere. In February 2011, a special agent for U.S. Homeland Security was gunned down in Mexico. Using special software to comb several federal databases on the Mexican cartel, within one week the murderer was identified and captured. Since then, that software has aided in the arrest of 700 suspects and the confiscation of 467 kilos of cocaine, 64 pounds of methamphetamines and 282 weapons.

In agriculture, Monsanto and DuPont’s analytic tools are helping farmers plant, water and fertilize their crops with surgical precision and minimal cost. The goal is to double per-acre crop yield per dollar by 2030.

Biology, logistics, cartography, medicine and your company are all racing to organize and apply data to investment decisions. Certainly, human resources is a rich field for data analysis and prediction. What is more important than analyzing and predicting the most effective methods of sourcing, selecting, deploying, developing, supervising and compensating the people in your company?

Given this flood of new data and technology, the opportunity to learn, grow and maybe even prosper is at hand. Yet, we are often reluctant to let go of the past. So many people miss out on great opportunities because they can’t acknowledge the past and embrace the future.

This isn’t the first disruptive technology to hit business. I remember when the early computer-driven reports came out in the 1960s. More than a few people continued to maintain manual records because they didn’t trust and couldn’t read those big green lined tab reports. While peers forged ahead, they held back, wasting time and energy producing records that only they could use.

In 1970, a trainer peer of mine asked why I went to a demo of this new thing called personnel software. He said it had nothing to do with training. Throughout the rest of his career he never advanced beyond classroom trainer.

You only have one career. You’re entering a new year with all its opportunities. Don’t be afraid to step off the dock and board the ship.