What is Big Data and why should in-house counsel care?

Big Data has the potential to introduce new compliance and legal risks

The technology community is all abuzz about this year’s new, new thing: Big Data. What is Big Data, and should in-house counsel even care? Yes, I believe in-house counsel does need to know what their company is doing. But first an explanation of Big Data is warranted.

At the simplest level, Big Data is the ability to analyze very large amounts of data that may be stored in different formats or come from different sources. Historically, data have been analyzed on a single system, typically within a single application such as a relational database. But the sheer quantity and variety of data pouring in have increased dramatically, straining the ability of single-system applications to hold and analyze these large quantities. New technologies with strange-sounding names like Hadoop have been developed to analyze very large, dynamic data sets that are frequently updated.

Liability: Sometimes companies make decisions based on vast data sets and complex, computer-driven analysis beyond the comprehension of a single individual. These Big Data-based decisions put a lot trust into automated systems. When the decisions go wrong they can create disastrous results. In the lead-up to the recent financial crisis, many financial firms created complex financial models based on large collections of information that no one understood, and some turned out to be quite wrong. Chalk up an early failure for Big Data.

Discovery: What happens when your company faces litigation, and there is potentially relevant information in your Big Data system? How do you preserve, process, review, analyze and produce this constantly changing data? Would you even know where to start?

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Mark Diamond

Mark Diamond, Founder & CEO of Contoural, Inc., is a regular contributor to Inside Counsel on Litigation Readiness and Records Information Management. You can e-mail...

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