How to Manage Big Data

Information can be overwhelming or misleading, so it’s crucial to use it correctly.

By Jindou Lee, CEO, HappyCo

We all hear a lot about big data, but I think we tend to forget just how “big” it really is.

It still boggles the mind, for instance, that every two years we create 10 times more data than was previously in existence — meaning that 90 percent of all data on earth was created the last two years.

Consider this fact, too: Facebook alone generates in excess of 4 petabytes of new data per day. By comparison, the entire Library of Congress can be represented in a matter of terabytes (1,024 terabytes = 1 petabyte). We are truly overwhelmed with information. Ironically, more data can actually lead to less usable information because it’s so hard to find the right facts in real time.

Big data is more than just a buzzword. It describes a new paradigm of doing business, in which every transaction, every interaction and every query generates a new data record. And it’s not just social media giants, either. Businesses of all sizes and industries, including senior living operations, generate heaps of new data each and every day.

But just where is all this data going? Actually, a lot of it is going nowhere, at least in terms of being useful to anyone.

MIT Technology Review reports that only about 0.5 percent of all data is ever analyzed. The rest of it, presumably, just sits in data storage environments taking up space and costing your business valuable time and money.

Making data work for your business

This is the paradox facing many businesses today: companies are generating huge amounts of data — more than ever before. But the speed at which it’s generated far outpaces the ability to process that data.

What these businesses need is the ability to turn data (the raw byproducts of day-to-day digital activities) into information (actionable insights upon which business leaders can base their strategic and managerial decisions).

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for how seniors housing operators can get the most out of their data:

  • Structure your data collection to support your analytics efforts: About 90 percent of all data created is unstructured. To get this data into a usable form for business intelligence or other analytics purposes, organizations have to put significant time and effort into having someone manually perform data entry or rely on nascent technologies for analyzing unstructured data. Not surprisingly, this tends to put hard limits on the amount of data that businesses can actually take advantage of.

Many seniors housing operators have tons of data in the form of emails, pictures, digital documents and even paper forms. In its present form, this data isn’t producing any business value. Even enterprise software, including property management applications, often generate difficult-to-analyze, unstructured data. To truly enable business intelligence capabilities, operations should utilize software and processes that ensure data is available in a structured format from the very beginning when it’s created.

  • Choose open platform applications with well-documented APIs: It’s unfortunate, but true: products from competing vendors don’t always play nicely with each other. Thankfully, many vendors are coming around to the wisdom of open-platform software applications that plug and play easily with products in the same space.

This ease of integration is achieved mainly through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs), which provide clearly defined standards through which software applications can access data from one another. The benefit of an open platform is that it allows you to choose best-in-class solutions for any given area and power business intelligence capabilities without having to worry about manually combining disparate data types.

  • Collect and sort your data into an easy-to-read dashboard: When making data-driven decisions, one of the most valuable tools is a dashboard that can be read and understood at a glance. The faster trends can be understood by a business user, the faster that the organization can respond to threats, opportunities and other real-time trends. To achieve maximum results from data analytics initiatives, operators should look for solutions that offer a variety of layouts and visualizations that can be combined and customized to fit their organization’s specific business needs.

Data provides the competitive edge

So many housing organizations use dated IT solutions that weren’t designed with analytics in mind. There is real opportunity for forward-looking operators to harness their data to become more efficient, more responsive to resident needs and more competitive.

As businesses continue to create more and more data, seniors housing organizations that have the tools to turn this data into actionable information are all but sure to win out over those that remain stuck in the past.

Jindou Lee is CEO of HappyCo, a San Francisco-based technology company that builds mobile and cloud solutions to enable real-time property operations.