It took two centuries to fill the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with more than 29 million books and periodicals, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps and 57 million manuscripts.Today, it takes about 15 minutes for the world to churn out an equivalent amount of new digital information. It does so about 100 times every day, for a grand total of five exabytes annually.

That's an amount equal to all the words ever spoken by humans, according to Roy Williams, author of "Powers of Ten" and head of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena.

The source of this information, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), a New York non-profit global organization with the sole purpose of the advancement of technology, counts more than 365,000 individuals as members, including 68,000 students, in more than 150 countries. That's a lot of people looking at ways to use technology to improve our everyday lives.

As the insurance industry looks at ways technology can improve its everyday life, i.e., by improving business processes that make us more accurate, efficient, timely and responsive, we must do so in the face of runaway growth-and growing pains-associated with data management. How do we acquire, purify, process, interpret, standardize and store data-and how in the world do we keep it safe? When the regulators come calling, how can we access it?

Our cover story (page 16) addresses the data dilemma faced by most of our readers and offers some advice to insurers who are looking to manage its sheer scale. If we aren't careful, the phrase "technology is an enabler" is given a whole new perspective. Without due diligence, data wins, carrier loses.

Perhaps part of the answer lies in managing the expectations of those actually using the data. Another part of the answer most certainly resides in managing the expectations of those who control the purse strings. Today's insurance executives must understand how much bandwidth they have and how much of that bandwidth (technology and labor) needs to be devoted to data management.

And just how much data is enough? For many insurance executives it's more a matter of how they use the data. If you're not diligent about data management, the magic of too many bits and bytes turns into an albatross to be reckoned with across all lines of business.

Of course, our ever-expanding world of data is here to stay. Technology truly is an enabler, but not at the expense of good common sense. In the face of increased competition, good-even great-business decisions still need to be made, and managed correctly, technology can and should aid in those decision-making efforts.

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