The world is awash in data. It is estimated that the amount of digital information increases ten-fold every few years, with data growing at a compound annual rate of 60 percent. The big technology company Cisco has forecast that by 2013, the amount of traffic flowing over the internet annually will reach 667 exabytes. Just to put that in perspective, one exabyte of data is the equivalent of more than 4,000 times the information stored in the US Library of Congress.
This data explosion – now rather imprecisely dubbed “big data” – is both an opportunity and a curse. Having all of that information makes it possible to do things that were previously never even imaginable. Last year, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) conducted a major research study on big data, calling it “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.” The MGI study noted that big data is becoming even more valuable as our analytical and computing abilities continue to expand.
On the “curse” side of the big data phenomenon, the growing mountains of information also pose massive challenges to those who need to manage it. Having ever greater volumes of data to sift through to find critical insights (the proverbial needle in the digital haystack), is a growing problem for companies, organizations, and governments the world over. Sometimes, there really is such a thing as too much information.
The data deluge is especially urgent for hospitals, which are factories of data. In the typical hospital, data flows from every department and function – from emergency department admission records and HR systems, to purchasing and billing information. But, hospitals are not exactly known for effectively managing data. The healthcare provider sector is probably 20 years behind other major industry domains in terms of how its uses data. Many hospitals fail to realize the value of the data they do have – or they are overly focused on EMRs.