It’s tempting to think that data speaks for itself. But as this case study shows, often analytics staff has to talk to other staff to be able to leverage data in the organization

How to exploit big data
This is a story about big data. Or, more accurately, this is a story on how to use big data. In a sense, it’s not about technology, but about the best way to leverage it.
 
It comes from a presentation by New York City’s director of analytics at a recent conference, as recounted by Thor Olavsrud in Network World U.S.  As you can image, city departments are overflowing with data. But like in any large organization, it’s in dozens of different systems and formats. The analytics department needed to show it is worthwhile to pull a lot of it together.
 
What it did was create a tool that identified buildings likely to have been illegally converted into unsafe housing and therefore at risk of fires.
 
 
(New York City image from Shutterstock)
 
What I found fascinating is that the team didn’t merely pour through data to set up the criteria for their tool. It went out and talked to police officer, firemen and building inspectors to determine what common factors they see to narrow down illegal conversions — for example, the year a building was errected and whether a tax lien had been registered.
 
The lesson is that massaging data alone won’t help pull out the nuggets an organization needs to be agile. You often need to spend a little shoe leather and time with people to get things right.
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