dinsdag 20 augustus 2013

A Short Memo for Big Data Sceptics

In an article in the NY Times from 17th August by James Glanz, a few Big Data sceptics are quoted. Here is a literal quote: Robert J. Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern University, said comparing Big Data to oil was promotional nonsense. “Gasoline made from oil made possible a transportation revolution as cars replaced horses and as commercial air transportation replaced railroads,” he said. “If anybody thinks that personal data are comparable to real oil and real vehicles, they don’t appreciate the realities of the last century.” I respectfully disagree with the learned scholar: the new oil is a metaphor for how our lives have changed through the use of oil in transportation. Cars and planes have influenced our social lives immensely but why shouldn't Big Data do so in equal or even superior order? Let me name just a few: 
  • Big Data reducing traffic jams (to stick close to the real oil world) 
  • Big Data improving the product-market match to the level of one to one, tailoring product specifications and promotions to individual preferences, 
  • Big Data improving diagnostics and treatments in health care combining the wisdom of millions of health care workers and logged events in diagnostics epidemiologic data, death certificates etc... 
  • Big Data and reduction of energy consumption via the smart grid and Internet of things to automate the match between production and consumption, 
  • Big Data in text mining to catch qualitative information on a quantitative scale improving the positioning of qualitative discriminants in fashion, music, interior decorating etc... and of course... politics Ask the campaign team from 44th President of the United States and they will tell you how Big Data oiled their campaign.
As soon as better tools for structuring and analysing Big Data become available and as soon as visionary analysts are capable of integrating Big Data in regular BI architectures the revolution will grow in breadth and depth. Some authors state that entirely new skills will be needed for this emerging market. If I were to promote training and education I'd say the same. But from where I stand today I think the existing technological skills in database and file management may need a little tweaking say a three or five day course but no way is there a need for an MBD (Master in Big Data) education. On the business side of things there may some need for explaining the works of semi structured and unstructured data and their V's which already add up to seven. I believe it is going in the same direction as the marketing P's where Kottler's initial four P's were upgraded to over thirty as one professor of marketing churned out this intellectual athletic performance. Let's sum them up and see if someone can top them: Volume: a relative notion as processing and storage capabilities increase over time Velocity: ibid. Variety: also a relative notion as EBCDIC, ASCII, UTF-8 etc... are now in the company of video and speech thanks to companies like Lernhout and Hauspie whatever the courts may have decided on their Language Development Companies, Volatility: I have added this one in an article you can find on the booksite on "Business Analysis for Business Intelligence" because what is true today may not be true tomorrow, so it is not about the time horizon you need to store the data as some authors claim because that will be defined by the seasonality. The problem with these data is there might not be any seasonality in them! Veracity: how meaningful are the data for the problem or opportunity at hand? Validity: meaning Big Data can only be useful if validated by a domain expert who can identify its usefulness. Value: what can we invest in recording, storing and analysing Big Data in return for what business value? This is one of the toughest questions today as many innovative organisations follow the Nike principle: "Just do it". And that, professor Gordon is just what all the pioneers did when they introduced the car and the aeroplane to their society, ignoring the anxious remarks from horse breeders and railroad companies. Remember how the first cars where slower than trains and horses? I rest my case.

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