One of the trends that will both help to enable Industry 4.0 (see our earlier blog The next revolution?) and be enabled by it is big data. And if you think the amount of data is big today – petabytes of the stuff are being churned out by social media as you read this – just imagine what happens when manufacturing industry pretty much looks after itself, processing goods, sending them out, fixing glitches, looking for new efficiencies. How much data will there be to deal with then? What patterns will be revealed? Will big data-led efficiencies, like the capacity of processors in Moore’s Law, double every 18 months?

Or will we get it all wrong? An entertaining article in the Financial Times on March 28 (Big data: are we making a big mistake?) warns of the potential to overstate the importance of data. “Statisticians have spent the past 200 years figuring out what traps lie in wait when we try to understand the world through data,” says the author. And he’s right. However clever we think we are, the potential at the very least to argue that discrete, self-selecting groups are emblematic of a wider trend, still exists. Or, to put it another way, if you did a phone poll of voting intentions in the 1950s, you edged out people without phones, who were still a large proportion of the population. Your poll would therefore be inaccurate. There are still ways and means to make an equivalent mistake even now.

That isn’t to dismiss Big Data. We at Telensa believe that, for example, the data gained from cars monitored as part of a nationwide network of car parking management schemes, like the city-based ones we have already worked on, could and would be useful for town and highway planners. And one of the potential intelligent uses of the vast amount of data floating around power networks is to avoid blackouts and thus save money.

So big data is not a bad thing per se; actually, it could be a wonderful thing. But it’s useful to be reminded, as the FT does, that we should be at least a little circumspect in our dealings with it.