Monday, July 14, 2014

Big Data doom mongers need to look outside of the marketing department

In every change there are hype machines that over play and sages who call doom.  Into the Big Data arena steps David Searls to proclaim that Big Data is a myth and simply hype which is set to burst in an article over at ZDNet.
But big data, he said, is nothing more than the myth that collecting vast amounts of data can help companies know customers better than those customers even know themselves.
 The boogie men in this story are IBM and the consultants who have hyped it all up.  There another sage jumps in
Dr Matthew Landauer, co-founder of OpenAustralia, is equally sceptical about big data. "All it allows you to do is optimise your current business," he told ZDNet. "It's never going to tell you that you're doing business wrong or need another model.
There then moves forward a complaint about privacy and security (which I'm not disputing) but the key point is that Big Data is a bubble, and I really have to disagree with the definition of big data, the lack of innovation it can drive and that its a bubble.

Firstly I don't agree that marketing and customer data is what Big Data is about.  The vast majority of my conversations on Big Data have nothing to do with an explosion of customer information (e.g social media) but are instead about machine data, trading data, weather data and other massive data sets that historically companies couldn't cost effectively do analytics on.

Social Media and customer information is just one part of the challenge and its probably the most fluffy bunny and liable to be a bubble but to infer from there that Big Data is just hype is like assuming all swans are white because you see a single white swan.

Secondly is the assertion is that it cannot tell you that you are doing things incorrectly.  I'm not sure what sort of machine learning and other data science work Matthew Landauer has done but I am surprised that someone with a PhD in Physics from Cambridge hasn't seen examples from his own field at just how much change becoming data driven can deliver in terms of insight that causes disciplines,  companies and industries to make dramatic changes and have new approaches (the LHR at CERN for instance is quite clearly a Big Data application).  Finance is covered with examples where smarter algorithms identified that things were done wrong and that new ways would make more money.  By analysing and simulating you can absolutely find that there are new ways that can work significantly better.

Thirdly I disagree about who started the big data hype, IBM were far from being the leaders, that job goes to two industries.  Firstly the internet giants, Amazon, Google, eBay, Yahoo etc who created entire new business models based on information, and secondly on engineering companies who saw new business models based on information.  Sure the 'marketing/social media' has come to be the default story used by the lazy but that is far from saying that it is actually the story.

Big Data marketing might pop, that doesn't mean that Big Data is hype.  Saying so would be like claiming the failure of Association Football to become the dominant sport in North America means that Association Football is failing.  Big Data is already delivering benefits in engineering in particular and the challenges associated with the Internet of Things are not going to result in a reduction in information anytime soon.  Claiming that its all just hype doesn't help move the state of the now forwards and certainly doesn't serve all those use cases which really are Big Data challenges.

But then the roll of doom-mongering sage has never been to be fair and balanced, but instead to take a specific example and declare 'We're all doomed' or 'the end is nigh'.  Where would the book deals be in 'Big Data has many specific use cases but some vendors are using it to hype sales of their technology in places where it doesn't really add value' or to give it a book title 'Salesmen - not always looking out for your best interests'.