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What Is Big Data Big Data and Why a Degree in It Matters

Aug 8, 2019

You’ve likely heard the term “big data,” but what exactly is it? Simply put, big data involves the generating, processing, and analysis of structured or unstructured data. Everything from mobile healthcare and banking apps to social media sites have increased the amount of personal information that individuals input online. All of this data needs to go through processing and analytics in order to be useful to organizations.

Why Big Data Matters

As users input more of their personal information online, data privacy and data protection become more important to them. On a global level, concerns have arisen about how companies sell user data, how that data gets used, and how data privacy is impacted.

The Role of Analytics

A professional role in data analytics involves discerning what information about people or situations might be useful in the future for a company or organization. Applying complex analytical procedures to extremely large data sets means parsing the data and using the findings for useful, real-world applications.

Today, this data-parsing process requires the use of new data analytics techniques which can incorporate machine learning to break down large data sets. 

What Is Big Data Analytics?

Sets of big data are often too large to be examined in meaningful ways by traditional data analysis techniques or software. Big data analytics often involves using programmable machine learning to teach AI how to handle and analyze massive data sets. The term “big data analytics” is often used interchangeably with “big data” because the management and analysis of the data is central to making it useful, relevant, and coherent.

Applications of Big Data

Big Data in banking involves very sensitive customer information and is used to identify consumer trends and to flag outliers as possible cases of identity fraud. One of the many benefits of data analytics in banking is the way it helps keep users safe. But it also involves very sensitive customer information, which can then be used against users. Breaches in the security of financial institutions understandably causes the most concern and alarm among the public. Users are often rightly concerned about their data, and want to be sure that privacy and protection is taken seriously with their chosen bank.


Big data in clinical healthcare is currently used to analyze patient records. These analytics divulge insights that help doctors to better treat patients or improve patient experiences. As patients move to new medical facilities or begin new healthcare treatments, the transfer of patient records makes these transitions much easier. Digital health records also make it simpler for patients and medical staff to work together and more conveniently access healthcare information. In addition to in-person care, big data is helping to revolutionize telehealth and remote patient monitoring.

The Role of Healthcare Managers

Healthcare managers act as analysts and use health data to track trends in patient satisfaction, clinical visits, patient treatments, and more. These managers increasingly rely on predictive analytics for resource allocation.


In banking, analysis of customer information is used to identify consumer trends and to flag outliers as possible cases of identity fraud. One of the many benefits of data analytics in banking is that it helps keep customers’ identities and financial assets safe. However, since this type of analytics involves sensitive data, it could potentially be used against these individuals.

Breaches in the security of financial institutions understandably cause worry and alarm among the public. Customers are often rightly concerned about their data and want to ensure that their bank takes privacy and protection seriously. One way banks keep data safe is by adopting emerging technologies like biometric authentication for enhanced security. 


Big data offers valuable insights into consumer thinking, behavior, and activity in any industry. Marketing professionals in particular can leverage big data to learn more about consumers, then use this knowledge to influence the messaging they craft to sell a particular product or service.

Marketers strive to expand their audience, and key insights may help them target their content toward specific demographics that will benefit from a product or service. However, these marketers should be careful with the large amounts of data they analyze—both structured and unstructured—so that customer privacy remains intact.


Big data can help businesses identify trends, minimize risk, adopt efficient supply chain practices, and inform product development based on consumer needs. As with all industries, the more data that a business can acquire regarding their customers, the more easily they can forge better relationships with clients or consumers.

For example, tech companies are adopting blockchain technology to improve their supply chains and make the retail process more efficient. These types of companies—and many others—seek to maximize production and profits through sustainable means that can reduce government oversight and foster a positive reputation among the public.

Facilitating Sustainable Business Practices with Big Data

Big data plays a pivotal role in driving sustainable business practices in several ways, including:

  • Resource optimization. Big data analytics can help businesses understand their resource utilization patterns, enabling them to optimize energy, water, and raw material usage, thereby reducing waste and lowering costs.
  • Supply chain transparency. By analyzing data from various points in the supply chain, companies can identify and rectify environmentally harmful practices or inefficiencies, contributing to a more sustainable supply chain.
  • Predictive maintenance. Through predictive analytics, businesses can foresee machinery breakdowns before they occur, allowing for timely maintenance that extends the life of equipment and avoids waste.
  • Carbon footprint monitoring. Big data tools can aggregate information from various sources to give a real-time view of a company's carbon footprint, making it easier to implement strategies that reduce environmental impact.
  • Regulatory compliance. Big data can help businesses not only comply with environmental regulations but also go beyond to adopt best practices that benefit both the company and the environment.

Concerns over Privacy and Security

The mass collection of personal data online, which is often sensitive, has sparked concern among the public regarding data privacy and data protection, as well as the ethical use of information. Security breaches have also come to the forefront as a major concern, and businesses and organizations are working more diligently to improve security and combat data breaches.

Consumers may have a variety of concerns about how entities collecting their data are using that information. It’s always in the best interest of businesses and other organizations to use their customer data carefully.


Managing big data requires the storage of large data sets in countless servers, many of which contain consumers’ private information. In the event of a data breach, massive amounts of this information can end up in the wrong hands.

According to projections, cybercrime is forecasted to cost the global economy $10.5 trillion by 2025, reflecting a 15% increase year on year. High-profile cybercrimes continue to occur as long as organizations engage in big data. For example, the Equifax security breach of 2017 made many users’ information available to criminals who wanted to use it illegally for their own gain. Additionally, a data breach targeted at in 2013 affected a staggering three billion accounts, making for the second-largest data breach in history.

As concerns over potential security breaches become more prevalent, organizations increasingly work with cybersecurity professionals to protect consumer information from hackers. Such professionals may recommend encryption and multi-factor authentication as additional layers of security.


Consumers are generally suspicious of the ability of big data holders (like social networks, government agencies, and other organizations) to protect their privacy. This is especially true of social media sites, which constantly collect huge volumes of data. Even in cases where there are no security breaches, there’s often a lack of transparency about what consumer data is being collected, who it’s being shared with, and what it’s being used for. Many organizations are striving to ensure that consumers have access to information about their data collection and privacy issues in real time.

Businesses and other organizations can strengthen relationships with their customers by being more transparent about the ways they use collected customer data. 

How You Can Get Involved in Big Data

One of the best ways to get involved in data security and privacy is by earning an IT degree. WGU offers degrees in network engineering and security and data analytics that can prepare you to confidently enter the field of big data and advance your career. 

WGU’s competency-based education model lets you progress through your coursework as fast as you master the material, potentially saving you time and money. Get started today.

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