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Big Data and Teenage Sex

Yes, one has a great deal to do with the other.

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“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”

–Dan Ariely


In a word, brilliant. You’ll get no argument from me. I make the same point in Too Big to Ignore, but I don’t use an analogy as witty as Ariely’s. Let’s dig deeper. Too Big to Ignore It’s not hard to find myriad surveys, polls, and reports that “most” organizations are embracing Big Data. For instance, as ReadWriteWeb writes:

According to a recent Gartner report, 64% of enterprises surveyed indicate that they’re deploying or planning Big Data projects. Yet even more acknowledge that they still don’t know what to do with Big Data. Have the inmates officially taken over the Big Data asylum?

That’s a big jump (64% in 2013 compared to 58% in 2012), and it reflects a growing confidence that Big Data can help to enhance the customer experience (54% cited this as their driving motivation), improve process efficiency (42%) and launch new products or business models (39%).

So, slowly but surely, Big Data is making inroads in the enterprise, right?

Simon the Skeptic

Color me a skeptic, but I just don’t buy these statistics. For every Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Twitter, there are thousands of mid-sized and large enterprises doing virtually nothing as regards Big Data. Probably more.

For every company really “doing” Big Data, thousands more are doing virtually nothing.

Is this reticence understandable? Of course it is. I can think of three reasons for this lack of widespread adoption. First, the same reluctance has held true with just about every enterprise technology (read: ERP, CRM, BI, and scores more). Second, there are many Big Data poseurs. Finally, most organizations do a poor job managing Small Data (read: the transactional, structured, relational data that undergirds their operations.) Tony Fisher covers this in his book The Data Asset (affiliate link).

Simon Says

Maybe in a few years, Ariely’s quote won’t hold water. At this point, though, it’s spot-on. The actual hype around Big Data exceeds its real-world execution. Don’t expect that change anytime soon.

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One response to “Big Data and Teenage Sex”

  1. “For every company really “doing” Big Data, thousands more are doing virtually nothing.”

    Nicely put. Well, I hardly believe anything these Gartner folks say. From an engineer’s perspective that is all just a big pile of bloat-talk. Calling it Big Bloat from now on. I mean, after all, they have to sell their expensive reports, too, right?


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