“Leapfrogging” is a commonplace economic growth theory.

It goes something like this:  Those that hold monopolies on current technologies have less incentive to innovate than potential rivals.  They eventually lose their technological leadership role when new radical innovations are adopted. When the radical becomes the here and now, the newcomer leapfrogs ahead of former leader.

Take cell phones.  India leapt forward and bypassed the whole nonsense of land line telephones and went straight to cellular.  More recently leapfrogging is jumping all over sustainable development – accelerate development by skipping inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries, move directly to more advanced ones.

Cash has also been left behind in Africa.  Instead of dealing with old fashioned wallets and the quaintness of cheques or credit cards, they went straight for mobile payments.  Pick your currency too:  yen, dollars, pounds, lire…they got it all.  And we lag behind.  Here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A we have Clinkle, a mobile payments startup that aims to put your entire wallet on your phone.  It’s raised a $25 million round of VC funding from over 18 investors.  Taking a page out of the Facebook playbook, Clinkle will launch at schools depending on the demand from the student body of universities, which they will gauge via the online waiting lists.   Yeah.  Not so innovative on that front.

So, what about big data?  Who is perfectly positioned to harness its power and take the ginormous leap?

Already, African companies are harnessing big data to transform their businesses. It’s currently being used in insurance claim investigation to ferret out false claims from the legitimate ones.  Looking ahead the most promising of the big data opportunities for Africa lie within the telecom industry. Mobile phones are now widespread, as are SMS based services such as mobile payments and money transfer. Next, observers expect rapid adoption of affordable smart phones capable of handling more sophisticated applications, such as social networking. It all adds up to a massive amount of data in the hands of the mobile carriers about what people are doing with their phones and where they are.

What will the carriers do with all that data? For starters, they can look for patterns in customers’ behavior that suggests they’re about to drop their service. As the mobile market continues to develop, the carriers will be in a strong position to offer their customers new applications and services. They’ll not only own the relationship with the customer, but they’ll see data patterns in customer behavior that helps them anticipate customer’s needs. Marketers have long dreamed of being able to address not just market segments but individual customers. Big data could finally turn this dream into a reality.  And it could happen first in Africa.

But, when it comes to big data, Asian organizations lag behind the U.S. and Europe in data warehouse, business intelligence and analytics investments.  In Asia, big data is being deployed in three key sectors — telcos because they have such large volumes of data; banks, which are less focused on unstructured data but want real-time high velocity analytics for fraud and risk management; and government agencies, primarily in intelligence, immigration and customs tax. Pharmaceutical firms are also expanding their interest and some retail organizations are exploring big data.  In social media, big data is being used to see who key influencers are through Facebook and Twitter or their local versions.

When you think “BIG DATA” the mind often wanders directly to technology.  Perhaps tech is the least likely of all possibilities though.  Isn’t the real proof of the puddin’ in the human experience?  Fast Company recently provided coverage on a new project launched by DARPA and Dartmouth University that data-mines social networks to spot patterns among veterans indicating suicidal behavior.

Called The Durkheim Project, named for the Victorian-era psychologist, it is asking veterans to offer their Twitter and Facebook authorization keys for an ambitious effort to match social media behavior with indications of suicidal thought. Veterans’ online behavior is then fed into a real-time analytics dashboard which predicts suicide risks and psychological episodes.  However, there’s a caveat: The Durkheim Project, which launched on July 1, is only a study into the effectiveness of predictive analytics for mental health. Veterans who participate will only be monitored, and have to receive any needed mental health assistance through the VA and other sources.

A recent panel featuring Google, CNN, HuffPost and others discussed ways big data is being used to target traffickers and affect changes in policy that fights modern-day slavery.  Google Giving and anti-trafficking nonprofit the Polaris Project spoke out on HuffPost Live about how they’re using technology to fight the issue. The two groups are culling data of reported trafficking instances involving anyone from sex workers to witnesses to truckers to carnival workers. Google and Polaris are then mapping information, tagging it and looking for patterns they can use to inform law enforcement and affect policy change.  While nonprofits press the government to do more to fight trafficking — the business sector is using technology to fill in where it can. Banks, for example, are using resources such as digital fingerprints to stem trafficking as a business.

Bottom Line:  The championship of the leapfrogging race is still up for grabs.  The determining factors will be dependent upon the venue (SMS, mobile payments, fraud detection…the possibilities are endless), the audience (consumers, business to business, government, to name a few), and timing.

Where does big data, and more importantly managing the issues and challenges of big data fit into your business and communications strategy?  Let the leapfrog race begin.

JoAnn Yamani is a Senior Account Executive for Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit.