There's no respite from Big Data, even on a Tuscan holiday, Julia Chain finds.
Even Tuscany can't eradicate Big Data anxieties. Darla Hallmark
Here I am, sitting on the terrace of a sun-drenched Italian villa, sipping an excellent espresso and reading The Times, which has quietly downloaded itself onto the iPad while I was having my pre-breakfast swim. Not for the first time, I am truly in awe of the power of technology to provide such simple pleasures. I am also a very disciplined user when I’m on holiday: I check email once a day, ensure I am up-to-date with the latest gossip and no-one has taken my job, and then retreat to a state of blissful laziness under the Tuscan sun. Can’t leave your work behind? I am SO not that person!
So in the midst of all this contentment, why am I worrying about big data and thinking about the Bradley Manning trial and a major European company? I was reading David Aaronovitch’s excellent piece about the Manning trial in The Times in which he reflects that ‘there was no conceivable way in which Manning could have read even a proportion of those [700,000] communications let alone evaluated whether or not the whistle needed to be blown on them.’
This reminded me of an extraordinary meeting I had in what seems like another world (but which was probably only a couple of weeks ago) with a very senior lawyer at a very large European company. We were discussing data -- lots and lots of data. Data about historic litigation cases that might rear their heads. Data about contracts and the fact that billions of Pounds/Euros/Dollars – you name the currency – are left on the table by corporates and banks every year just because no one has the data to know when a clause can be invoked or when a penalty has become due. Most importantly, we discussed data about legal services invoices.
Spend under control
Businesses of all types spend millions every year on the fees of external law firms. You would think it is a given that they are managing all that data, not only to ensure that the spend is under control, but also to have information to assess the complex relationship between value and spend. But this very important lawyer at this very important company told me that he couldn’t understand all the fuss about data management, or about the need for e-billing and a robust document management system for his millions of Euro legal spend. He told me it takes him five minutes to check every bill (on complex litigious matters) from his law firms and he doesn’t need any – and I quote –‘American imports on technology’ to help him do this.
Impossible to manually manage data
This is why I worry. It is impossible to manually manage data and spend, unless that spend is very small. Without e-billing and a proper document management system, legal departments are putting their businesses at risk both financially and operationally. Quite apart from the enormous savings captured by using e-billing efficiently, the right technology can ensure that the one piece of data that might save you isn’t buried in a file on someone’s desk.
So what’s the connection with Bradley Manning? Well, if he had put those 700,000 documents through even the most rudimentary sifting process, he might have known what was actually important. Although, as they say, a little knowledge…OK, that’s my worrying done for today. It’s gelato time.