What is Big Data?

Big Data definition

Big Data refers to datasets that are very large and complex to the point that traditional management and analysis tools are not fully capable of analysing the data and drawing out pertinent conclusions/results.

According to research firm Bersin by Deloitte, big data is concerned with “huge datasets, ranging to exabytes of data, where the data is ever-increasing in volume; the speed of the data in and out of the data set is increasing in both velocity and volatility; and, the data are increasing in variety.”

Professor Stefan Strohmeier, an expert on HR technology, says that Big Data is defined by the three-V model – volume, variety and velocity. The volume is key and Big Data typically refers to datasets of one terabyte or more. Variety refers to the inclusion of both structured data, which is data organised into pre-determined models such as tables, and unstructured data, which is data without consistent organisation. Finally, velocity refers to an increased pace of data generation and the need to analyse this data in a real-time or near real-time fashion.

In the HR function, according to Professor Strohmeier, there has been an explosion of data availability, but the volume, variety and velocity do not yet qualify it to be Big Data.

The McKinsey Global Institute says that Big Data can add value in five broad ways: by making information transparent and usable at a much higher frequency, by exposing variability and allowing companies to boost performance by increasing the number of data sources available, by allowing greater segmentation of end-users and thus a more tailored offering, by allowing greater evidence-based decision-making and, finally, to improve the development of the next generation of products and services.

Outside of the HR department, the concept of Big Data has applications across various fields. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN delivers data 40 million times a second from 150 million sensors. In 2012, the US Government announced the creation of a Big Data Research and Development Institute which looks at how Big Data could be used to improve Government efficiency and help it address contemporary problems.