Context – the driver to actionable use of Big Data

In a previous article titled Context and Data, I wrote about the need to understand the ‘context’ surrounding data. Without context, data is data. You really can’t do much useful with data. Sure, you can analyze it…but in order to get any decent analysis results, you’ve got to know what the contextual wrapping of that data is.

Context allows you to build actionable outcomes with data. With context, you know the right questions to ask when analyzing data. With context, you can at least get information from your data – and hopefully glean some real knowledge from it.  With context, you’ll even be able to determine what data is important and what data isn’t.

wrote an interesting piece recently on Midsize Insider titled Actionable Insight: Big Data’s Best Use where he hits on the same truth about context, at least in a roundabout way.

Doug writes:

…But making best use of this growing resource means more than organizing it into neat columns and sensible rows; IT professionals also need a way to glean actionable insight from the data they create.


Big data is an ever-expanding resource companies generate without any effort; the simple acts of sending email, selling products, or posting on social media websites creates new data. This puts midsize IT departments tasked with delivering consistently actionable resources in a difficult position. Simply mining huge data sets for organization and ease of storage isn’t enough. Adaptable, flexible business intelligence (BI) tools must be used – along with the right questions – to deliver an end result that contains at least one key aspect of actionable insight and allows companies to take decisive steps forward.

Emphasis mine.

While Doug doesn’t come right out and use the word ‘context’ in his article, he hints at it with the ‘right questions’ line of thought. The right questions indeed.

In order to ask the right questions, you’ve got to understand the context of the data. This means understanding your business. It also means understanding the tool set available to you for collecting and analyzing data. Lastly, context gives you the grounding you need to ask and answer the right questions.

Context is the driver for actionable use of big data.  Data without context is just data.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.


  1. […] the Mid-sized and Small Business.  I’ve written about the topic before (e.g., see here and here) and think Big Data is useful for any organization regardless of size but I also believe the focus […]

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