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'Data philosophers' help firms find meaning in information clusters

Rachel Wheeler Archive

Corporate IT officials have worked tirelessly in recent years to gather stockpiles of information about their business-to-business clients, their end customers and the world around them. Step one in this process is gathering as much information as possible, and step two is using address management solutions and other tools designed to cull out mistakes and ensure data quality. The third step is employing data analysts to filter through all the information at their fingertips and take action.

There's another stage, though, that's equally important. Jim Harris of the OCDQ Blog writes that in addition to data scientists who are able to quickly process and find trends in information, it's also important to have data "philosophers," critical thinkers who are able to find true meaning in big data, finding lessons that companies can really act upon. Harris referenced British theological philosopher Don Cupitt in his argument, saying that people must be aware of the way analytical reasoning affects their decisions.

"Philosophy is critical thinking," Cupitt said. "Trying to become aware of how one's own thinking works, of all the things one takes for granted, of the way in which one's own thinking shapes the things one's thinking about."

Harris argues that big data analytics can work just like theology - people should use deep philosophical thinking to change their ways.

The amount of money that companies spend on big data analytics has become astronomical. According to Greenbiz, businesses worldwide spent an incredible total of $28 billion in 2012 on data analysis technologies, and that figure is expected to increase steadily, to $34 billion in 2013. Very little of that money was spent on employing philosophers to discern what all their information really means.

Big data analytics are one stage of a multi-faceted process. Philosophy is the next level. Companies who truly know how to think will be able to get ahead.

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