By Joshua Seidemann, Vice President of Policy, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association
Kevin Ashton, a British technologist, is credited with having coined the phrase “Internet of Things” at a Proctor & Gamble conference in 1999. Ashton is a co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID lab and was an early leader in the use of RFID in supply-chain management. He is also responsible for half of this post’s title.
“Big data” contemplates computer (if not AI-facilitated) gathering of enormous amounts of data points and then analyzing them to deconstruct heretofore undiscernible trends. As we discussed last week, the usefulness of data sets depends on how they are interpreted. Big data relies upon specialized software and systems to manage and interpret unstructured data sets of otherwise unmanageable sizes, and in quicker time than would be humanly possible.
Big data can be used to combat the spread of infectious disease (see this article for an expose on big data, Ebola and SARS). It is also used increasingly in agriculture, allowing experts to refine farming practices in everything from row crops to beef cattle (the latter generates $78.2 billion in revenue each year). Now, big data is being corralled to improve rural economic development.
In addition to diversifying rural economies, locally rooted institutions often are the first to support local ideas, give young people their first jobs, and participate in efforts that help the community move ahead. - Stanford Social Innovation Review
A multi-state effort among Texas A&M, Iowa State University and Michigan State University secured a USDA grant in 2017 to analyze Federal employment and payroll data. These are being weighed against geographic, socio-economic and industrial data to help predict threats or success for particular types of businesses in rural counties. The program is mid-way through its four-year run. The goal of the program is to identity those factors that are most critical (or most challenging) to rural success.
In the interim, regions can consider models like the Iowa Retail Initiative (IRI), which is housed in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The IRI offers resources for rural communities and small retailers, including training, data analytics and business planning. As noted last summer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, small businesses contribute substantially to the “civic energy” of rural communities: “In addition to diversifying rural economies, locally rooted institutions often are the first to support local ideas, give young people their first jobs, and participate in efforts that help the community move ahead.” Big data can help identify the factors that will enable those crucial results.
As for the title of this post? Big data contemplates, processes, analyzes and correlates data sets that would otherwise seem disconnected, disparate, and random. And, yet, those data points, difficult to collect and correlate, arise out of actual events. Ashton observed that RFID and sensors break the bonds that limit human observation (and interpretation) of events. In contrast, Ashton proposes that properly empowered, computers can “see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory.” And, as demonstrated by the multi-state effort, reflect that beauty back to rural communities.