Opinion Data Science from a Different Angle

  • March 30 2012, 9:36am EDT

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong spoke the instantly famous words “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he stepped off the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module and became the first human being to walk on the surface of the Moon.

In addition to its many other, and more significant, scientific milestones, the Moon landing provided an excellent demonstration of three related, and often misunderstood, scientific concepts: mass, weight, and gravity.

Mass is an intrinsic property of matter, based on the atomic composition of a given object, such as your body for example, which means your mass would therefore remain the same regardless of whether you were walking on the surface of the Moon or Earth.

Weight is not an intrinsic property of matter, but is instead gravitational force acting on matter. Because the gravitational force of the Moon is less than the gravitational force of the Earth, you would weigh less on the Moon than you weigh on the Earth. So, just like Neil Armstrong, your one small step on the surface of the Moon could quite literally become a giant leap.

Using these concepts metaphorically, mass is an intrinsic property of data, and perhaps a way to represent objective data quality, whereas weight is a gravitational force acting on data, and perhaps a way to represent subjective data quality.

Since most data can not escape the gravity of its application, most of what we refer to as data silos are actually application silos because data and applications become tightly coupled due to the strong gravitational force that an application exerts on its data.

Now, of course, an application can exert a strong gravitational force for a strong business reason (e.g., protecting sensitive data), and not, as we often assume by default, for a weak business reason (e.g., protecting corporate political power).

Although you probably don’t view your applications as something that is weighing down your data, and you probably also resist the feeling of weightlessness that can be caused by openly sharing your data, it’s worth considering that whether or not your data truly enables your organization to take giant leaps, not just small steps, depends on the gravitational forces acting on your data.

What is weighing down your data could also be weighing down your organization.

This post originally appeared at OCDQ Blog.


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