Fifteen (ii)

“A collection of information is not knowledge. We must build knowledge from such information by identifying and interpreting patterns. So for this example, we identify the process causing the occasional test failures and develop an appreciation for how it might be fixed.

“Putting some important security and legal issues to one side for the moment, we don’t have to care too much about the underlying technology any more. Rather, we need to focus on getting the right information to the right people at the right time in the right format, and help them translate the information into knowledge in order that they can do their jobs better.

“Data paucity was the problem of the 20th Century. Having too much of the stuff is rapidly becoming the challenge and the opportunity of the 21st.”

I checked with myself to make sure I knew John was an important cog in the Attenzi machine. I did.

“Big data?” I asked.

“Are we playing buzzword bingo?” said John, deadpan.

“Hey, you said ‘cloud’ not me!” I countered.

John smiled, “Yes, so-called big data. This idea that we can digitize almost anything, including all our parts and products and services and processes by the way, and collate all those terabytes of data, and store it cheaply and easily and forever and use it for all sorts of analyses.”

I chipped in: “But only if that analyses translates data into information and knowledge, right? Makes it useful to us?”

“Well how do you determine the value of the information and knowledge prior to the translation of data into information and information into knowledge?”

“Er, ask someone in IT?!” I offered.

John took the compliment with a caveat, “And the domain experts. Humans are quite capable of digesting four dimensions of data when presented in an appropriate way, simply because we inhabit a four dimensional world – three dimensions of space and one of time. But the data we have, and could harvest in the future, spans many dimensions. We need therefore to work together to develop intelligent software that identifies and extracts the most interesting, useful, valuable four dimensions for visual presentation to the domain experts.

“A primary challenge isn’t trying to find answers to questions but determining good questions in the first place.”

I put my empty cup down and began kneading the blue cushion with the white bird on it. You know the one.

I was thinking out loud now. “Divining exact usefulness or attributing precise value to an insight is incredibly difficult to do with hindsight, let alone in advance. Perhaps the best we can achieve then is simply to have a good guess at whether the potential information and knowledge we might unearth will make anyone act on it.”

John clarified the thought, “Or perhaps, more precisely, will anyone change what they would have done otherwise.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Well, deciding not to do something isn’t often recognized as an action.”

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