Have you heard of the zettabyte? No, it’s not a new fast food snack or some next generation fuel-efficient car.

The zettabyte is a unit of measure, the last one in this sequence: kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, terabyte, petabyte, exabyte –and then finally — zettabyte. It’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, or the number of bytes equivalent to 10 to the 21st power.

If you haven’t heard about the zettabyte yet, you will . . . because thanks to Big Data, we’re all going to have to get comfortable with using units much, much larger than the gigabyte.

Image courtesy of Cisco

Last year alone, 1.8 zettabytes of information were created – that’s roughly the equivalent of every U.S. citizen tweeting three times per minute for 26,976 years. Digital information now streams into your offices 24/7, supplying countless new opportunities to uncover insights about customer preferences and buying behaviors. But . . .

How can you make sense of it all? What can you do to harness big data so you can leverage its enormous potential?

As I see it, there’s only one answer to those questions: If you want to capitalize on big data, you have to call on the expertise of data scientists.

The job title “data scientist” has become quite popular recently, even though there’s still debate about exactly what the designation implies. After all, no one graduates with a degree in data science, and some would argue that statisticians and information analysts have been doing this type of work for years. Plus, when you stop to think about it, doesn’t every scientist deal with data? Why do we suddenly need a new title to describe the job now?

For me, it boils down to business value.

Today’s data scientists are different from yesterday’s statisticians and machine learners because today’s data scientists are tasked with creating business value through the analysis of digital information. Not only are they experts in both statistical analysis and modeling of big data; they interpret and communicate their findings, as well. For example, a data scientist won’t just calculate deliverability stats for your last email campaign; he/she will also use that same data set to help your marketing team refine its approach and improve results.

In short, data scientists translate big data into actionable insights. They’re rare hybrids who can blend the art and science of marketing in ways that are unprecedented –and now absolutely essential. We’ve moved into a new era, one where technical expertise is required, but not sufficient. You see, these days, technical expertise must be married to application. Competitive advantage demands more than calculations; it demands insights.

Big data is streaming in by the zettabyte. And savvy CEOs are teaming up with data scientists so they can take revenues to the nth degree, too.

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