Karina Luper releases article on data

The Philosophy of Data

By Karina Luper
Head of the Data & Intelligence Unit

The word “data” is a plural of datum, from the Latin noun meaning “something given”. Today, data is used in English both as a plural and a noun meaning “facts or pieces of information”

A question : what do One Direction, data, rats, fungi, hairspray and about 95% of everything else with a Wikipedia page have in common? Philosophy. If you click on the first link of a Wikipedia page and then keep clicking the first link on every Wikipedia page you are taken to, you will eventually arrive at the Wikipedia entry on philosophy. What this says about a) data, b) 95% of stuff or c) society, I am not sure, but I think this warrants further scrutiny. Certainly arriving at Philosophy is a more impressive result than landing on “minion memes”.

The Wikipedia result shows us that the two parallel universes – the tangible, messy one and the clean, ordered, mathematical one – are connected by a bridge. And that bridge is data. Data is everywhere you look and there are a million buzz words to define it, Big Data being one of the “mots du jour”.

So what is data, anyway? Essentially, data is information and virtually every person, industry and society relies on having access to high quality data. At its best, it gives us a greater insight into ourselves and the way we organise every aspect of our civilisation. By garnering data to construct information, we gain knowledge and when enough quality data has been analysed, hopefully wise decisions can be made. Data came into its own during the 1800s when engineers such as William Farr, who used census data to establish the cause of cholera, and Claude Shannon, who converted speech into code to eliminate the hiss on telephone calls, were involved in the emerging technical revolution.

Curiously data is usually represented on TV and websites by a speeded-up film or photo of people in cityscapes. I think I know why : unless data is organised and analysed, it will always seem vague, blurred and without definition. Structure and analysis allows us to view the bigger picture, giving us the opportunity to stand back and absorb the facts laid out on the electronic canvas. The amount of data out there is awe-inspiring, but can also be overwhelming - so much information and yet so little time to really understand our seemingly chaotic world.

And so to the role data can play in international expansion.

The constant challenge for FDI investors and professionals is how to manage all the available data and convert it into timely, accurate and meaningful information for the decision-making process. For researchers and data analysts collecting and managing raw and non-aggregated data, there are the challenges of which tools and methods to use in order to construct the most truthful and reliable datasets. Choosing a data provider involves exploring many aspects of their methodology and approach including the sources are used, how language challenges are handled, the use and reliability of algorithms, their approach to verification and cleansing and most importantly, how the data will be presented to the final decision makers.

Well-structured, comprehensive and organised data removes the superfluous data “noise”, allowing corporates, communities and agencies to understand what is really happening in their sector and region. When interpreted and analysed effectively, it can reduce uncertainty by providing concrete tools for decision-making, giving confidence to all stakeholders.

And finally by bringing together the myriad streams of data available we can build an understanding of how companies and people tick, what drivers are behind the decisions made and finally, the very thing that consciously or unconsciously underpins every person and organisation – Yes you’ve guessed it : Their Philosophy.

By Karina Luper
Head of the Data & Intelligence Unit