From professional sports, to advertising, to investment banking and almost everything in between. Big data is driving thousands of decisions each day that impact us all in areas big and small. But what is big data exactly, and how or why should it impact efforts in the realm of health and safety?
First a definition of big data itself. Big data is a term that began to emerge over the last decade or so to describe large amounts of data. Boring I know. At its origin, it was a term used to describe data sets that were so large they were beyond the scope and capacity of traditional database and analysis technologies. As Moore’s law continued, technology caught up, but the data still kept (and still keeps) growing.
Beyond simply being a lot of information, big data is now more precisely defined by a set of characteristics. Those characteristics are commonly referred to as the four Vs – Volume, Velocity, Variety and Veracity.
So what are these Vs exactly and how might they impact the world of EHS? Let’s take a closer look.
The original attribute of big data – lots of data. The internet is a good place to start when considering the scale of data sets available today. The population online is huge – over 6 billion cell phone users around the world, 1 billion Facebook users, and countless emails. All of this user activity is creating a colossal amount of data each and every day online. But it’s not just consumers adding to the big pile of bytes nor is it exclusively an internet trend. Research has shown that most companies in the US have at least 100 (100,000 Gigabytes) Terabytes of business related data stored.
What is that data exactly? Its financial information, CRM data, ERP data, and just as importantly EHS data. Data surrounding the goings on of your worker safety, environmental impact and regulation compliance are all valuable sets of operating data that are now tracked and add to the volume of data that businesses rely on.
Velocity is the rate at which new data is begin created. Again, certain use cases are intuitively massive sources of new data creation. The daily activities happening in the stock markets around the world for example. Each trade and transaction is logging a constant stream of data.
But data velocity is not just about stocks and bonds. For EHS professionals, data is being created at a high velocity as well. These days it’s not just safety incidents that are being logged. Incident and near-miss analyses, corrective actions and training tasks and documentation are all activities that are adding to your rich pool of EHS data.
Data no longer comes from one single source. In fact, data isn’t even exclusively generated by computers as we commonly know them. Smartphones, wearable devices, even internet of things connected appliances. All these end points are adding to the reams of data we have. There isn’t just variety in devices either. Whereas heavy duty data used to be the realm of the military and finance, today, all corners of the earth and all industries rely on data.
Even seemingly simple business processes of the past, such as incident tracking and reporting that may have been done on paper for years are now tracked in modern, purpose built EHS databases and platforms. EHS itself is no longer restricted to incident data either. Platforms can now collect, aggregate and analyze datasets across not only incidents, but quality management, training and risk matrices to provide businesses with a far fuller view of their business operations than ever before.
Veracity is perhaps the one hidden secret of all the data we now rely on. How accurate is all this data anyways. Data quality isn’t a small concern either. Research has shown that the cost of poor quality data (and the errors it can cause) was upwards of $3 trillion dollars in the US economy last year.
How can you ensure that your EHS data is of a high quality? Leverage tools and technologies to ensure that all your data, whether they be incident forms, audits, or imports from external sources happen on time and when they happen. Some tools can also help ensure the quality of your data by including additional sources as well like photo and video. It should go without saying, that the biggest step in ensuring the quality of your EHS data is to move beyond paper forms and manual process in favor of a web based system of course.
With all this data, the big challenge remaining (yes that was an attempt at a terrible pun) is how to pull out the types of insights that can help you drive real change, not only to your EHS programs, but to your business as whole. After all it doesn’t matter how big your haystack is, you still need help to find the needles of insight that may lie within.
Tools and technologies unlocking the value buried in these massive datasets has been the biggest breakthrough for businesses over the past few years.
When it comes to deciphering your EHS datasets look for tools that offer the following:
Faster time to value
EHS reporting and analysis tools should allow you, the user, access to easy to use data discovery tools. Applications allowing for intuitive reporting and drag and drop dashboards will save you time and money. Tools should allow you to spend less time learning how to use them and more time identifying and visualizing insights and trends in your EHS records.
Clear communication of EHS data
Let’s face it, pie charts, donuts and other graphs are the language of business. Simply put, EHS data discovery tools, should allow you to easily speak that language. Using a combination of charts and modern graphing tools, every EHS administrator or manager should be able to communicate results, trends and concerns to your management and peers in other departments in a clear and concise manner.
There is nothing worse than having another department become a bottleneck in your work. Yesterday’s big data tools were built for data scientists. These days much of the value of those first generation tools has been streamlined and modified to be more accessible for the rest of us. Look for EHS solutions with reporting and light business intelligence capabilities that allow EHS managers and program owners to quickly perform real-time analysis of their EHS data without having to rely on a corporate business analyst to act as a middle man. This lets you take control of your EHS data and get the insights you need, when you need them.