Culture Meets Data, A Love Story?

If one could reach into dust and pull out a diamond, then what is the value per shipload of dust? So it is with big data, and all of its dull sparkle.

A common misconception is that data analytics is a technical domain. In practice, it’s really about culture for it to reach its full potential and impact. The primary challenge today is not access to data, but the systems and processes, both human and machine, to uncover and utilize the gems within it.

Cultural adaptation to big data is evidenced by changes in behavior at all levels of society, from governments to businesses, to community organizations, families, and individuals. Analysts have unprecedented access to public and private data. Billions of people are leaving digital footprints right now. Consider the following statistics from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU):

  • Internet usage: “In 2017, almost 3.6 billion people are using the Internet of which 2.6 billion are from developing countries.” [1]
  • Mobile activity: For every 100 people in the world, there are 103 mobile-cellular subscriptions.

There are more mobile-cellular subscriptions in the world than there are people in the world. The business significance of this fact is staggering, and not only for the titans of telecommunications. What are the implications?

Consumers in developed countries have become accustomed to personalized news, entertainment, mobile banking, “smart” cars and insurance, appointment reminders, and e-commerce that may know you better than your boss does, for now. Organizations must wrestle with privacy concerns of big data, not least in healthcare-related projects, for example, clinical trial research recruitment. Finally, there are contentious inequities where algorithms are trained to reward and cater to those who’ve been rewarded and catered to all along. Data inputs can have biases that machine behavior can amplify when optimizing for a narrow goal. Caveat emptor. (Latin: Buyer beware.)

Despite the challenges, there is reason to be hopeful, or perhaps no reasonable choice otherwise. Data transparency can radically democratize an organization, and curb the unchecked power of individuals by the simple question: “What does the data say?” [2]

The utilization of big data lags only in the cultural capacity of groups to create value and navigate risks. It is a moment of opportunity and change for the humblest of leaders to face the data, and empower the side-by-side work of data scientists and business people toward ethical consumer and societal outcomes—to pull the diamonds from the dust.


[1] Measuring the Information Society 2017 Report, Volume 1. International Telecommunications Union. Retrieved from

[2] McAfee, A. and Brynjolfsson, E. (Oct 2012) Big Data: The Management Revolution. Retrieved from