The celebrity of data: Taking data to the mainstream


[ce·leb·ri·ty], noun. the state of being well known

Media exposure, good or bad, is the surest way to gain celebrity.  Just ask any child actor gone bad in Hollywood. They know. Lately data has been getting more than its fifteen minutes of fame. And good or bad, I think it’s awesome. We’re at a tipping point when it comes to data. From the movies we see to the news we read, we can't escape data. It’s part of our everyday lives.

Here are some ways that data is shaping how we see the world around us.

The movies: Moneyball.  If you are a data geek like myself you had to really love Moneyball.  Billy Beane hires a stats geek who has a “new” way of using data (information, coincidentally, that the team already has) to pick players that cost less and will help win games. On-base percentages and slugging averages turn out to be better predictors of a team’s offensive success than batting averages, runs batted in (RBI) and stolen bases. This movie, about data of all things, won awards!

Everyday life: Target. As a Red Card-carrying Target shopper, I was concerned about the security breach of late 2013.  The most interesting thing here wasn't that card numbers and pins were swiped (in every sense of the word). How about an HVAC unit “talking” to the point of sale system?  Hello Internet of Things!  Target showed me that the Internet of Things is indeed real. When I leave work tonight and my car automatically navigates to the grocery store, and Siri advises me that I am out of milk because my refrigerator told her so, I won't be shocked.

Big Brother: the NSA.  Undoubtedly, this a touchy subject with a variety of viewpoints, but from a data perspective, one thing is clear: that’s a lot of data. At one point it was revealed that the NSA was mostly metadata (which later turned out to be false – as far as we know).  At any rate, thanks to the NSA, my 71-year-old mother now knows the term “metadata.” It’s odd to hear it come out of her mouth, but she’s one step closer to understanding what I do for a living.

Politics: the 2012 US presidential election. Regardless of your political party affiliation, the 2012 election proved to be fascinating from a data perspective.  One tech publication said “the Obama campaign was committed to building one of the most innovative internal data operations ever for a political campaign.”  And, as a result “[They had] a massive data effort that helped Obama raise $1 billion, remade the process of targeting TV ads and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailings and social media”

This celebrity of data is changing the way we view, treat and manage data.  And new, high-profile instances of the good and bad of data are seeping (no, flooding) into our everyday lives. In my next post, I’ll talk about how this is affecting the way that organizations manage their data on a daily basis.


About Author

Lisa Dodson

Manager, Data Management – Americas Technology Practice (SAS)

Lisa is a recognized expert in the data management, data governance and data quality space within the organization. A 14-veteran of SAS, Lisa holds a master's degree in information quality and has affiliations with many data management/governance organizations. She is a former board member and president for the International Association for Information and Data Quality (IAIDQ) and an organizing committee member for MITIQ's Industry Symposium. Lisa has experience as a systems engineer, product manager, technical trainer and solutions architect at SAS, where she’s developed a deep understanding of the SAS software architecture. In her current role she leads the Americas Data Management Practice.

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