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October 2013

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Big Data at Work: Featuring MIT’s Andrew McAfee

In his keynote address at Oracle’s Big Data at Work event series, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, examined organizational disruptions and revenue-accelerating opportunities in the age of big data.

Those who did not attend the series of live events can watch McAfee address the same issues in a conversation with Oracle’s Big Data Strategist Paul Sonderegger as part of Oracle's Big Data At Work webcast series.

According to McAfee, the speed and scale of the big data phenomenon are astonishing. “I have never seen a phenomenon take off and grab the imagination of the suits like big data,” he says. “I have to go back to the dawn of the internet.”

To make his point, McAfee offers a series of case studies that illustrate the kinds of surprising and valuable insights big data can deliver, from understanding commercial jet landing patterns and estimating the price of French wine to tracking the spread of infectious diseases.

HiPPOs vs. Geeks
Despite its obvious business value, big data presents a serious challenge to corporate cultures where what McAfee calls HiPPOs—the highest-paid person's opinions—generally prevail in decision-making processes.

"When data is scarce, expensive to obtain, or not available in digital form, it makes sense to let well-placed people make decisions, which they do on the basis of experience they’ve built up and patterns and relationships they’ve observed and internalized," says McAfee.

However, in the age of the tera-, peta-, exa-, zeta-, and now yottabytes, such intuition-based decision-making is quickly being outstripped because when you match HiPPOs against what McAfee calls "geeks"—those who apply quantitative information in the form of big data to the task of making important decisions—the outcome is clear.

“The geeks win,” says McAfee.

Yet companies can really only prosper when the two types of decision-makers form a genuine partnership.

"Don’t be part of this broken dialogue between the geek side of the house and the suits," says McAfee. “Speak the language of the other side."

Watch Andrew McAfee in conversation with Oracle’s Big Data Strategist Paul Sonderegger and learn how to speak the language of big data.

Check out the rest of the Big Data At Work webcast series, which features Cloudera and Hadoop experts, as well as customers such as Dell and Passoker.

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