A View from the CLOUD: “Sure, Big Data is Great. But So is Intuition.”

This View from the CLOUD was originally sparked by a much appreciated spot by Liza Bernstein and Susannah Fox’s kind invitation to make a comment at her blog, based on the original article, “Sure, Big Data is Great. But So is Intuition,” by Steve Lohr in the New York Times just before the New Year. Take a peek at both the article and Susannah’s blog. There are a number of excellent comments at Susannah’s blog, taking a number of different perspectives on the topic. Following is CLOUD’s comment, taking a different view, one that goes to the deeper roots of the issue. Like Web 2.0, the challenge with Big Data is it has so many different definitions…

The quiet reality of all of this brouhaha about Big Data in the last several months is that the answer to these issues has nothing to do with data.

It also has nothing to do with privacy; nothing to do with identity; and nothing to do with security. It actually has to do with all of them, and until we move beyond each of these technology silos and see each of these topics, not as separate, but as axes emanating from a common problem, we will not unlock the power of data or more importantly, the power of the people that are connected to it.By addressing this as a linked people problem, not just a linked data one, then we will be able to unlock the incredible talent arrayed in the healthcare industry, the passion and power of engaged patients; and the analytics and analysis of data scientists.
The other challenge with the various conversations about big data, patient-centered data and many other related topics is what I describe as ‘chartopomorphism’ or paper-centric thinking. Just like we moved from geocentric to heliocentric thinking and now to the universe and even multiverses, our discussion of the Internet needs to leave the boundaries of paper behind, too. Discussions of “big data” whether in health, finance or any other industry are always framed as if we were moving around digital manila folders (EHR, financial statements or education records) from one digital filing cabinet (database) to another.
Just like we don’t know which power plant on the electric grid delivers the specific electrons to our homes or businesses to power our lights or appliances, we need to evolve our thinking around data in the same way. Relational database technology focuses on the power plants; contextual databases™ (CLOUD term) focus on the grid. We need to wrap our databases around the data, rather than the data around the databases. When we do, the data will never be big or small but will always be in context, weaving together information from across the Internet, as appropriate (atomistically and privately) rather than just the data we’ve moved from one place to another.
CLOUD [Consortium for Local Ownership and Use of Data, filed for 501(c)(6) status] was born in response to my wife’s journey through cancer treatments and has resulted in our effort to build the multi-dimensional language that will allow us to “Reweave the Fabric of the Internet.” This new language will not only unleash contextual databases but address the vexing issues of privacy, security and identity, too. If we are successful, then the unbelievably talented people making comments in this thread and many others throughout healthcare and other industries will be able to build on this new language and unleash a powerful new renaissance. At the end of the day, the power of innovation is all about doing new things, not just old things in new ways.
There is too much to the CLOUD way of thinking to pack into one post, so if you are interested in digging deeper, I’d suggest a visit to our home page, as well as my talk at TEDxAustin. The TEDx gives you a broad sweep of our thinking that can be followed by clicking through some of the overview videos below the story of CLOUD on our home page to get a sense of the general architecture. There are also a number of posts on CLOUD’s way of thinking in the realm of healthcare (and other industries) under the ecosystems tab at the top of the page. If you are reading this post, then you are likely already there… 🙂
Thanks to Liza Bernstein for bringing my attention to this article and to Susannah Fox for the invitation to this part of the healthcare tribe and the opportunity to share a few thoughts as we start 2013!