New York Times, By STEVE LOHR, May 13, 2011
The current data surge is coming from sophisticated computer tracking of shipments, sales, suppliers and customers, as well as e-mail, Web traffic and social network comments. The quantity of business data doubles every 1.2 years, by one estimate.
Mining and analyzing these big new data sets can open the door to a new wave of innovation, accelerating productivity and economic growth. Some economists, academics and business executives see an opportunity to move beyond the payoff of the first stage of the Internet, which combined computing and low-cost communications to automate all kinds of commercial transactions.
The next stage, they say, will exploit Internet-scale data sets to discover new businesses and predict consumer behavior and market shifts.
Others are skeptical of the "big data" thesis. They see limited potential beyond a few marquee examples, like Google in Internet search and online advertising.
The McKinsey Global Institute , the research arm of the consulting firm, is coming down on the side of the optimists in a lengthy study to be published on Friday. The report, based on nine months of work is "Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity." It makes estimates of the potential benefits from deploying data-harvesting technologies and skills.
The McKinsey research unit, for example, says the value to the health care system in the United States could be $300 billion a year, and that American retailers could increase their operating profit margins by 60 percent.
But the study also identifies challenges. One hurdle is a talent and skills gap. The United States alone, McKinsey projects, will need 140,000 to 190,000 more people with "deep analytical" skills, typically experts in statistical methods and data-analysis technologies.