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What is big data? And what does it mean for management accountants?


Image Copyright The Economist

You may have heard the term “big data“, or perhaps not. Here, I’ll try to explain it and pause for a moment to consider what it means for management accounting.

The fact that many businesses capture vast amounts if data is not brand new (see this article from The Economist in 2010), but the focus of collecting and analysing what marketing people call big data is now beginning to come firmly under the radar of management accountants too. Before looking briefly at what big data means, we need to define. First, back to basics. Data is simply facts, numbers, statistics etc. For example, 175,80,40 are just numbers. They are in fact my approximate height, weight and age. This is information, as you now know some facts about something i.e. me. The problem with big data is getting the information value from it.

Here is where a management accountant can help – assuming of course (s)he has some technical proficiency. Here is an extract from an item on CNET back in May of this year (bold is added by me):

Put simply, the analysis that big science brings to the table makes big data relevant. I envision big science combining with big data to create big opportunities in three significant ways: real-time relevant content, data visualization, and predictive analytics.


When I read the above, I immediately thought isn’t this what management accountants have been doing for years now?  If you remember the basis definition of what management accounting is, you’ll remember it is about providing decision-relevant information to managers. This includes real-time data, forecasts and predictions and is often aggregated (or visualised). Personally, I believe management accountants, IT people  and marketeers (who might be responsible for collecting all this big data) can all work together to make big data work as information. In particular, management accountants are well placed to assist as they know what information drives a business.

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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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