IBM exec offers tips for thriving in the digital data storm

Cognitive thinking is the key to surviving and thriving in the perfect storm of modern technology, according to IBM’s Mac Devine, who presented a National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS) DataBytes Webinar in December.

Devine, vice president and CTO of emerging technology and advanced innovation, IBM Cloud Division, said that our interconnected world composed of big data, the Internet of Things and the cloud, has created a tidal wave of data that is too large to handle using traditional methods of managing information. Cognitive thinking, or using high-level technology to comb through large sets of data with a human mindset, is one strategy for coping with what he termed a “perfect digital storm.”

Devine’s webinar was aptly titled “SurThrival” Guide to the Perfect Digital Storm and provided plenty of evidence that digital data threatens to overwhelm us. Currently, 90 percent of data collected is never used, he said. Companies struggle to keep up with the massive amounts of data they create and collect and to use it in meaningful ways. Successful companies who thrive among the deluge of data, according to Devine, use cognitive thinking.

Cognitive thinking is a digital age strategy for surviving and thriving (“SurThival”) in multiple data-intensive fields, including weather forecasting, healthcare, urban planning, transportation, and information security.

For example, IBM’s recent purchase of the Weather Company resulted in the use of crowd sourced weather data to predict information in real time without the expense of building and maintaining weather stations.

In order to achieve “surthrival,” companies must rethink how they are structured and organized and must rework traditional modes of conducting business. The current industry model of central control and delivery of products and services is rapidly being replaced by a new generation of agile companies characterized by decentralization and peer-to-peer communications and delivery of goods and services.

Moving forward, applying cognitive thinking techniques and decentralization will be crucial to businesses who want to survive in fast paced markets that are quickly becoming saturated with data.

The DataBytes Webinar series is presented monthly by the NCDS, a public-private consortium to advance data science. To view Devine’s webinar, click here. To view other DataBytes webinars, click here. To learn more about the NCDS, visit

–Carolina Chao, RENCI and NCDS communications intern