Today there is much talk about “big data”, with the assumption that this is a new and challenging area of analytics. Without a doubt the volume of data being analysed is greater now than ever before, but it is worth asking just how new the challenges really are.
In the 1880’s, Herman Hollerith was working at the US Census Bureau, heavily involved with the processing of census records that was carried out every ten years. He met the challenge of tabulating millions of census records by inventing an electromechanical system using punched cards. The cards were essentially a storage system for a big data set. The company Hollerith set up became today’s IBM.