A few weeks ago, Fortune published an article on the “Big Data Employment Boom.” According to the story, big data will require 4.4 million people for hard core IT jobs by 2015. The less obvious but no less critical need will be for knowledge workers with “softer” skills who know how to both work with information technologies and communicate well with people. These high demand knowledge workers will possess the mysterious mix of being able to discuss information needs, select appropriate data resources, translate needs into research queries, and possess the investigative intuition to help them deliver results tailored to the unique business need. Another article, in Information Week outlined the skills needed by the new breed of “big data” knowledge specialists.
Law firms seem to be well down the path of marrying internal and external data for law firm management decision making. They are using “big data” for AFA pricing, share of market analysis, competitive intelligence and other firm management activities.
It is inevitable that firms will start to use “big data” for client advisory work such as patent portfolio analysis, the financial impact of regulation, what’s market data for deals. Litigated issues could require social science, economic, manufacturing, demographic or scientific data to support a client’s case.
Big Data: Big GIGO Risk – Look Before You Leap (Into Bad Data)
Before Law firms plunge into the next ocean of data they should identify the professionals in their organization who are adept at assessing data quality.
The Intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts
These articles reminded me that Steve Jobs, who was not pure technologist himself, attributed Apple’s success to hiring people who worked at the intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts. Big data it appears requires the same hybrid. And who are these people? They are they are already in your law firm. They are librarians …. Also known as knowledge managers, information analysts, reference librarians, researchers, and electronic services librarians.
Information Week identified the following Skills
1. Problem Solving Skills. Invent new solutions. People assume that law librarians research the law. Yes that is a given but on any day they can be asked to deliver research involving intra-day trading trends, pharmaceutical market share, historical meteorological patterns, expert witness win rates…. You get by drift. They invent solutions to information problems all day long.
2. Good Communication Skills – The big data knowledge worker needs to be able to talk to people in all levels of the organization and help them articulate their information needs. One of the core competencies of information professional is the ability to conduct a reference interview. It is not uncommon that people start out asking the wrong question. They sometimes have not thought through all the parameters they should consider in defining the information they need. Jumping into a research project without defining the goal is a surefire time and resource waster.
During the research interview an information professional helps the requester tease apart their needs. E.g. “what is the time period you want the data to cover?” “should it be local, national, international?” if there are two potential sources which one will be better? Let’s look at stock prices—everyone can find a stock price right? But in the context of high stakes litigation your data may need to be limited in a number of ways – do you need, ask, bid, high, low, intra-day, close, adjusted close, after-hours? Lots of potential qualifiers to a question that looks simple to an information novice. Big data will be a big waste of time unless you have staff with the expertise to help lawyers, administrators and staff define the scope and limits of their information needs.
3. Open- Mindedness One of the big advantages of information professionals is that they respect the fact that they “don’t know everything.” Their skill is to understand their limitations and to embrace learning as an everyday value add of their profession. They possess nimble thinking processes which allow them to develop new investigative expertise on the fly. They explore by continually questioning their assumptions. If they can’t find the data using the standard tools and methods, they know how to invent new pathways into information using analogous inquiries.
More Core Competencies. To this list I would add a list of other important competencies which have been absent from most “big data” articles I have read so far. The big data knowledge worker will need to have.4. The ability to locate the best and most appropriate data at the lowest cost
5. The ability to assess the quality of external data sources. All information is not of equal quality. The temptation to harvest free open source data could put a firm at risk especially if the data were to use used in advising clients.
6. The ability to assess the provenance of the data. Is the data from a primary source? Or has it been handled and altered? By whom and how?
7. Know the reputation of our source. Is it known to be a reliable source?
8. Ability to interview the requester and help them to define the scope and limits of their need.
9.. The ability to query the data and uncover patterns which suggest the need to ask more questions or pursue additional lines of inquiry.
Will the Future Give Rise to The Chief Query Officer?
Let’s face it...
In a Big Data world, everyone will potentially have access to the same data...
In a Big Data world, advantage will be gained by asking better questions....
In a Big Data world, every firm will be striving to be one question ahead of the competition...
…..And it will need to be the right question!
So will this give rise to the Chief Query Officer?