This story from the Spring 2012 issue of OPEN magazine (coming soon) features three Texas MBA alumni and their thoughts on big data. Originally posted on McCombs Today.

Profiles by David McKay Wilson
Illustrations by Quick Honey 

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Big Data machine

Some of these terms entered the lexicon less than five years ago. But today they’re all examples of information being collected, parsed, analyzed and shared by all corners of all companies, across industries. Big Data, as this avalanche of information has come to be known, is transforming the way companies operate, from one end of the value chain to the other.

The origin of this revolution is the technological explosion that took us from floppy disks that held a measly few kilobytes of data to thumb drives that have no trouble with multiple gigabytes. The same advances that allowed for the creation of (very) smart phones enabled computers to process data by the multi-terrabyte—and fast. Suddenly, crunching oceans of numbers took no time at all.

The key is knowing what data to collect and ferreting out the answers hidden in the patterns. We spoke with three McCombs alumni who are working with Big Data to improve school districts across the country, measure influence in the Twitterverse and help Googlers—the ultimate purveyors in Big Data—help each other. And Professor Anitesh Barua, one of several McCombs scholars researching in this emergent area, puts this revolution into perspective.

Building Better Schools

The education accountability movement has inundated U.S. public schools with mounds of data. But many educators remain perplexed about how to mine that information to improve classroom learning.

Enter Sarah Glover, MBA ’00, executive director of the Strategic Data Project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, where she heads up a $23 million program that aims to transform the use of education data to improve student achievement.

The project, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has taken on increased importance as school districts gallop toward public education’s new frontier: evaluating teacher performance based, in part, on data from student performance on standardized tests.

“Most would agree that our focus on student proficiency has moved us collectively forward, but that’s not enough,” says Glover, 42, of Arlington, Mass. “We’ve outgrown it. Now all the effort is connecting teacher Continue reading