A Word to the Big Data Skeptics

Cynics are everywhere. Are they right?

“The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
–William Gibson


skepticTwo years ago, virtually no one used the term Big Data. Fast forward to 2014 and nothing could be further from the truth. The amount of hype surrounding Big Data is nothing short of astonishing. This begs the question, Who’s to blame? Thank social media, consulting firms, software vendors, and even many thought leaders and authors.

So, where do we stand now? At present, when it comes to Big Data, there are three types of people:

  • Those who haven’t heard of it
  • Those who have heard of it and believe that it’s entirely overhyped
  • Those who have heard of it and, despite its considerable hype, believe in its power

Since the publication of Too Big to Ignore, I have come across all three types. In this post, I’ll address the need for skepticism.

Technology and Skepticism

It’s not hard to understand the skepticism around any new technology–nor is it entirely unwarranted. You’ll get no argument from me on the need to be critical of shiny new things, at least up to a point. Many enterprise technologies arrived with similar hype only to soon flounder. Ever hear anyone talk about knowledge bases and ASPs in the last decade? Neither have I. Skeptics of those technologies can rightfully say, “I told you so.” Many of them do–and loudly.

Within large and mature organizations, skepticism usually isn’t confined to one type of technology or change. Skeptics are likely to have adopted a commensurate mentality with respect to e-mail, cloud computing, the Web, and other nascent technologies. Those skeptics are much more restrained these days.

Big Data has already arrived. Deal with it.

Employees and organizations who doubt the import of Big Data today are are stuck in an Enterprise 1.0 mind-set. They believe that only structured data matters (read: orderly, transactional, table-friendly information). As a result, they believe that their current reporting and business intelligence applications sufficiently address their needs. Big Data will blow over and things will return to “normal.”

Except it won’t.

Big Data has already arrived, even if you don’t realize it. You may still use Excel, dashboards, and traditional BI tools, but rest assured: They are hardly the only games in town. New technologies and data sources are improving upon an increasing number of fields, and not just in the enterprise. For more on this, watch Chris Steiner’s excellent TED talk on the power of algorithms:

Simon Says: Big Data Is Already Here

It’s imperative to pay attention to the transformative power of Big Data, even if your department or organization is not doing much with it at the moment. This one isn’t going away.

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I wrote this post as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program. It provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise, and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

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