Guest Columns

Big Data: What it is — and isn't

Steven Littlehale
Steven Littlehale

It seems that everyone is touting themselves as “Big Data” experts or providers these days. It's no wonder. Big data analytics is the hottest trend because it empowers healthcare providers and organizations to see beyond the mountain of data they have and actually making sense of it.

However, don't be fooled. Just because someone drops this term doesn't mean they really know what it means. And just because you have a large volume of data, does not mean it's “big.” So let's break it down.

Volume is part of Big Data, but you also need velocity and variety. Velocity generally refers to the speed information is generated and collect by the organization. In other words, how many times have data consumers asked if the information was in real time? When thinking about “variety,” consider data that is both internal (company-generated data) and external (public domain data) in nature.

Also, consider that “variety” means data that presents as structured (databases, spreadsheets), or unstructured (social media, pictures, objects). The idea is to gather data from a variety of sources in order to make the most informed decision for your organization. Volume allows for a clearer picture by smoothing outliers, velocity allows for quick adjustments and variety provides a comprehensive, 360-degree picture for analysis.

When you gather this data together, it provides the basis for your Business Intelligence (BI). BI refers to how a business harnesses Big Data to provide meaningful information to guide strategic and operational planning. Organizations identify what data, how often and how much they need to drive their book of business. Clearly, we're facing an era where we need to determine how to use big-data platforms to power our BI and how to organize the information into a format that your workforce can digest.

Analyzing data stored in different places can be challenging, if not impossible, for the non-analytics expert. Not only is the process time-consuming, but invariably, data elements important to a business decision, are overlooked or missed as you try to hunt through our various storage sites trying to find key performance indicators. Forward-thinking organizations have begun to create centralized storage of key data elements that they use to evaluate performance, monitor systems and compare outcomes. This centralized storage, or dashboard, for all BI metrics creates efficiency. More time can be spent on data analysis and less on data aggregation.

Not only can dashboards provide internal company data, but many can stream data from outside sources (variety) through current technologies like Web APIs (velocity). We've seen a new type of client emerge in 2014 where Web API technologies are required and user interfaces are not.  

Check with your vendor partners for this option. The benefit is external data can appear within your dashboard to further streamline your data collection process, providing valuable time for analysis and execution.

Steven Littlehale is a gerontological clinical nurse specialist, and executive vice president and chief clinical officer at PointRight Inc.


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Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.