Big Data: Bring Popcorn

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When you’re working but not actually “working” in your information management job, when you’re reading articles, listening to sessions, visiting events or attending conferences, it’s gotten near impossible to avoid the elephantine words that are “big data.”

It has for me anyway, and you know it’s real when the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and your average high end management consultant are all comfortable flogging the term to the impatient attention of the higher ups where you work.

The GOOD news about the loud hard landing of big data is that, for information managers, success favors those who are prepared at times when the future looks portentous like it does now.

It’s a good time to keep your head up and your ears open. The modeling and the technical side of the discussion is fascinating. There’s the attraction of falling CPU and storage costs. Opportunity beckons in all the discrete, endlessly redundant actions and transactions being collected and pulled through the Web.

To trend is human, to correlate, divine.

On the other hand, we very suddenly have an awful lot of big data experts in our midst explaining the same “three Vs” under any desired motive to any boss of ours they can find. Some are real experts who have been here all along in an area like data mining or Web analytics; others are trying to reinvigorate software or consulting careers into high-concept futurist insight (futheuristics?).

As some point out, the salaried data managers of today are not often meeting or even aware of their new data scientist advocates or counterparts. Most of the rest of us are employed in the execution angst of existing data projects that already carry the risks of budgetary and resource commitment.

Whether that now causes or might cause disregard or envy to the current excitement I don’t know. The downside at the moment is overexposure and the risk of being chastised for not being “all in” for big data. If you chose, you could compare the phenomenon of big data to the phenomenon of “Bieber fever” – except that Justin Bieber has more documented performances and actual sales under his belt compared to (insert the name of your data scientist if you have one).

You might have noticed the industrial tension in the pending mainstreaming of big data at events sometimes attended by frontline information managers. Here are two scenarios:

1. At the traditional data warehousing, content management, business intelligence or analytics events, the activity is busy, the technology is entrenched, the programs are gaining and the mood is optimistic. With the industry on solid ground and customers and practitioners far and wide feeling good, the vendors and advisers can (and feel obliged) to strap “big data” on the back of what they offer, or have offered for years, to stay current in the buzz. No risk there.

2. At the trendy events solely dedicated to big data, you see visionaries, big thinkers from the Internet brands, VCs, startups, a celebrity and a poster child or two, but few customers with cash in pocket. There’s no common center of demand yet since solutions for an average business haven’t arrived in plain sight. The concepts you hear at these events are damned interesting -- and decidedly aspirational.

I suppose that’s the way it often works and it does feel like the pace of change is accelerating. That said, I encourage business managers everywhere to buy lunch for the folks seeing our current priorities through, support and remind them we know their projects are important to our success.

The grind and the demands are tough. From an editor’s view, there are days you think you are just “making the donuts” and feeding the crowd. That can include days when it feels like too much to put the words “big data” into one more exploratory headline.

It felt especially so after an opening keynote at a recent event on master data management took exactly 22 minutes to digress for the next 25 minutes to draw dotted lines between MDM and social media and yes, big data.

Given the dedicated attention, the big investments and the history of train wrecks in MDM, it would have been more assuring to hear stories of success and evidence that we’re getting MDM to a place where we can sustain and grow it.

Sure, the future is exciting and it’s easier to attract attention with an eye on new opportunities.

In a movie theatre, “coming attractions” appear before the feature film.

In a TV reality series (and maybe less popularly in an organization) they’d say “previously, in MDM…”

I guess there’s nothing to do but grab the popcorn, enjoy the show and watch the future arrive.

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