Editor's Note: Mark MacNaughton (above) is speaking at TechTomorrow, taking place on September 26-27, 2012 at COSI in Columbus. 

Mark MacNaughton: Thinking Big Data
By Terreece Clarke, August 29th, 2012

Mark MacNaughton, SVP and CIO of Cardinal Health's medical segment, is thinking big - big data that is. A quick Google search of the term 'big data' yields millions of results and as many definitions of the phrase as there are opinions on how best to harness it.

In a May 10, 2012 Network World article, writer Brandon Butler cited the lack of standard definition as part of the issue industry leaders are having with it. But rather than focusing on the definition of the term, MacNaughton thinks the industry should focus on the bigger picture.

"The real question for big data is: what are you going to do with it?" he said. "We are at a point where it's "Big Data." Everyone has to have it, but [companies] are struggling to know what to do with the information."

Big Data for Big Healthcare

Because the healthcare industry is so broad, MacNaughton suggests there's huge potential for each of its sectors.

MacNaughton said the supplier sector is promising because big data can lead to better diagnostics. He downplayed the heightened concerned over security and information sharing in healthcare, citing a significant difference between big data and individual medical information.

"Big data looks at trends," he said. 'The right safeguards need to be in place, anonymizing [the patient] info...[Overall,] I'm not super concerned about it [security issues]," he said.

The payer sector, MacNaughton said, has an interest in loss. They can use big data to see the average never event rates (a medical mistake so egregious it should never occur) of hospitals and compare that with hospitals who have an above average rate. This data will help them work with the hospital in improving the rate. Factors like size of hospital, location and types of services provided would also factor in the rate average.

In the provider sector, due to the concern with outcome and cost, big data could be used to improve services to match the patient. MacNaughton gave the example of a person needing a knee replacement.

"Let's say I want to give the best knee [as a provider] - not that money can buy - but the best one for the patient. The highest quality for the lowest cost using factors like the age of the patient...the lifestyle of the patient, are they a runner or are they sedentary...are they obese?" Using that data alongside the data of types of artificial knees available, the provider can match the best performing device for the individual patient.

Big Data Bank of Ideas

MacNaughton is most excited about sharing ideas and insider looks into how other industries are handling big data at the upcoming TechTomorrow 2012 conference. As track leader and moderator, he's bringing together panelists to discuss the ideas that connect the 'big data dots' so organizations can understand their customers and predict future behavior.

"[There are some] who are early on in the adoption life-cycle...they come from a variety of industries, it's going to be interesting to see what they [are all] doing and applying it to their different areas," MacNaughton said. "I really like the blend of panelists, the industries, size of companies, where they are in their journeys."

That diversity in thinking is a part of the trend MacNaughton says he sees in big data use.

"A lot of people are ending up in a different place," he said. "It's not structured data, it's really much more wide open. They go in with a set of questions and come out with totally different information. It [big data] makes you think about your business in different ways."

In closing, MacNaughton offers some friendly encouragement for those coming to terms with big data.

"Pull your head up and see what other people are doing to give you fresh ideas and look at things in a new way," he said.