Big Data or Big Mistake

By DANIEL ANTION posted 06-12-2012 10:31


Big Data is all the rage right now, but like websites, BI and social media before it, I’m betting that most companies will get Big Data all wrong. Maybe I’m being cynical when I say “most companies” – you see I am basing that statement on the unscientific study of email and phone calls that I receive. To help me explain my prediction, let me share two examples:

Near the turn of the century, we wanted to switch our database to DB2. I spoke to a local sales representative, but he became unresponsive when he realized that I was talking about less than 50 seats. I complained about this treatment in an online forum (yes, a newsgroup) and an IBM salesman from Toronto reached out to me offering to make the sale. He asked for my company name, or the customer number off of any IBM invoice. I gave him the number and then asked me: “do you still have that System-34?” I told him that the box was still on-site, although it was no longer in use. Then he asked me if we were still using Lotus Notes. I told him we were still using Notes. He updated our customer records with those bits of information and with my contact information, and then he sold me DB2. So you see, IBM, clearly one of the pioneers of Big Data, has always known how to handle the trivial little data too.

On the other hand, I bought a password management app for my iPad last year from a company that (apparently) was working the mobile app market only. They have since expanded their product line to all iOS devices, as well as other platforms, desktop software and cloud-based integration. I became annoyed at their incessant attempts to get me to upgrade, and I complained via email. The response I received began “Dear Customer” – Really, I thought, that’s the best you can do?

That’s the best effort I see from most of the companies I deal with and from virtually all the companies that I don’t deal with but who appear to want to do business with me. The percentage of emails that begin with “Customer”, “Dear Customer”, “Antion” or some misspelled variation of just my surname dwarfs those that address me by name or contain even a minimal amount of correct information about me or the company I work for, even when I have registered products with the sender’s company. This is why I think most companies will screw-up Big Data. They will either jump into it (at the expense of other projects) because it’s the hip new thing to do or so they can tell their board “Big Data, we’re all over that.” Or, some upper management pinhead will buy into some smarmy Big Data Analysis service, like the ones that are behind the webinars I am being invited to on an almost weekly basis.

People used to be guided by the quaint but practical expression “learn to walk before you run.” Today, we seem to react with fear to the fact that we aren’t running, despite not yet knowing how to crawl. I am not going to ignore Big Data, although our version of big is microscopic by comparison to IBM, but before spending a lot of time and money on the new hot topic, I am going to focus on finishing the following:

  • Personalizing the applications and apps that our employees use
  • Personalizing the websites that our customers and business partners visit
  • Complete the integration of unstructured content with the transaction data we use and create, to paint a composite picture of every person and business we work with
  • Establish and engage a meaningful following in social media

Then, if there is Big Data for us to use, we might be in a position to do something with it without embarrassing ourselves.

#Management #Customerservice #IBM #BigData #deployment #planning


06-13-2012 16:16

Thanks to all who have read and commented so far. I am on the run here at Info360, but I did want to chime in and try to responde to Christian's original comment.
Right now, I am concentrating on making sure we can truly analyze the data that we already have. In terms of the industry we insure, nuclear power, I’m sure there are tons and tons of data out there to be gleaned from the collective conversation. It doesn’t come close to impacting our company directly, as we don’t build reactors, sell electricity or set policy. The lens I would wrap around this subject is the same one I use every day in determining what data has value to our company, what that value might be, and how can I make it available in a useful context to my customer (my coworkers).
“Big Data” as it is being marketed to me, is all the chatter out there that might include insights into feelings, emotions, satisfaction, etc. with “insurance” – people aren’t even bothering to do the 5 minutes of research that would tell them that we don’t insure cars and houses, and probably aren’t interested in trends around those topics.
The “new” information that I can gain from new communication streams are the bits of data that tell me how our customers, our owners and our business partners are using social media, and what their expectations might be of our company in the near and long-term. I am not defining big data for the purpose of this article, I am concerned that the hype around the topic will divert resources from more important processes as companies move to start collecting what they might someday be able to use. I don’t think most of these companies are effectively using the data that they already have.

06-13-2012 15:51

You're right. There is more data gthan ever before. In the BoaF session, I mentioned that in 1996 I managed a "massive" consumenr data warehouse for the phone company, totalling 800Gb. After a belnding with additional marketing data, it swelled to around 1.2Tb. Funny that 16 years later, that's about the size of the music server on the external drive that I carry in my backpack. But volume of data is just one facet -- its also the type and complexity of that data, including unstructured transactional data, machine data, and raw files capturing anything from weather patterns to seismic changes to patterns in purchasing decision by 15-year old girls in West Virginia.
The pattern yesterday seemed to define Big Data as 'raw data captured so that we can do something with it later.' Everyone agreed that we can and do capture more of this data. The question is -- where is the innovation in what to do with it?

06-13-2012 15:34

In broad strokes I agree that big data isn't really new. However, I do think that certain new capabilities (e.g.: text analytics) are allowing new questions to be posed and answered.
Maybe it's not "New & Improved", maybe it's just improved.

06-13-2012 09:14

I sat in a Birds of a Feather discussion at Microsoft's TechEd2012 event yesterday here in Orlando where the topic was 'Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity' run by the community (not by Microsoft, but led, in fact, by two Oracle guys). My observations were that 1) there was not a shared understanding of the definition, and 2) everyone was looking for innovative solutions (which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since people don't understand what it really is -- but we are a society that often jumps to solutions before understanding scope, so par for the course).
I believe I have an understanding of the problem space because of my background in business intelligence platforms and DBMS, supply chain solutions, and line of business applications I managed that capture massive amounts of unstructured, transactional data. But when I talk about Big Data, I put the lens of my understanding around it. I joined the conversation at TechEd to try and expand that lens (it didn't happen). I'm interested in hearing your definition.
Big Data is not new, its just a new name, but it would still help most folks if articles and discussions on the topic included better definitions -- at least until it becomes better known. And it will help people understand the author's perspective. At that point we can start talking about innovation, based on our new lens of understanding.