Exploring 'Why Big Data is a Big Deal'

David Pogue, Yahoo Tech columnist, former New York Times tech columnist and host of NOVA ScienceNow, moderated an in-depth exploration of one of the hottest topics in today’s business world, Big Data, at the Saint Peter’s University 43rd Annual Regents Business Symposium on November 7.

Nearly 250 business leaders, faculty and students were in attendance at the Mac Mahon Student Center to hear from Keynote Speaker Paul DePodesta, entrepreneur and subject of the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and the Oscar nominated film Moneyball, as well as a panel of experts including Hilary Mason, data scientist-in-residence at Accel and scientist emeritus at bitly; Paul Walsh, vice president of weather analytics for The Weather Channel; and Kathy Zanowic, vice president and senior privacy officer for Verizon.

The Symposium is one of New Jersey’s longest-running forums designed to inspire and educate an audience of all ages, professions and industries regarding business trends, challenges and best practices. This year, “Why Big Data is a Big Deal” focused on the fact that today’s technology produces tremendous amounts of structured and unstructured data and when it is utilized effectively and creatively, organizations can target and connect with audiences in ways that were never before possible.

The panelists examined what exactly Big Data is and how it can be leveraged to positively impact businesses’ bottom lines. It also explored how Big Data can invade privacy and how protection is key for consumers and businesses alike.

DePodesta entertained the audience with his story of how he used Big Data as the assistant general manager of the Oakland Athletics to help turn the team into a remarkable success, a feat depicted in the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, and the Oscar nominated film Moneyball, featuring Jonah Hill as DePodesta.

At the time of DePodesta’s hire, Oakland was one of the worst teams in the league, coming off of six losing seasons while posting one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. DePodesta effectively used data analytics to turn the team around and guide them to a playoff victory in his first season at the helm. His work has been recognized by various publications, including Fortune, who named him one of the top 10 innovators under 40.

Following earlier discussions regarding the accuracy and reliability of data and how to effectively use it, DePodesta reminded the audience that no matter what the data says, emotions always play a role in our decision making.

“We create causal relationships in our mind. No matter how much data we have,” he said. “We want to have a reason why things happen.”

A portion of the proceeds from the annual Symposium benefit The Patricia Q. Sheehan H ’77 Scholarship.