Should We Still be Calling it Big Data?

shutterstock_227687962Several months ago, I was talking to some CIOs about their business problems. During these conversations, I asked them about their interest in Big Data. One sophisticated CIO recoiled almost immediately saying that he believes most vendors are really having a problem discussing “Big Data” with customers like him. It would just be so much easier if you guys would talk to me about helping my company with our structured data and unstructured data. At the same time, Gartner has found that 64% of enterprises surveyed say they’re deploying or planning to deploy a Big Data project. The problem is that 56% of those surveyed by Gartner are still struggling to determine how to get value out of big data projects and 23% are struggling with the definition of what is Big Data and what is not Big Data.

DavenportClearly, this says the term does not work with market and industry participants. To me this raises a question about the continued efficacy of the term. And now, Thomas Davenport, the author of “Competing on Analytics”, has suggested that we retire the term all together. Tom says that in his research “nobody likes the term”. He claims in particular that executives yearn for a better way to communicate what they are doing with data and analytics.

Tom suggests in particular that “Big Data” has five significant flaws:

1)      Big is relative. What is big today will not be so large tomorrow. Will we have to tall call the future version Big Big Data?

2)      Big is only one aspect of what is distinctive about the data in big data. Like my CIO friend said it is not as much about the size of data as it is about the nature of the data. Tom says bigness demands more powerful services, but a lack of structure demands different approaches to process the data.

3)      Big data is defined as having volume, variety, and velocity. But what do you call data that has variety and velocity but the data set is not “big”.

4)      What do you call the opposite of big data? Is it small data? Nobody likes this term either.

5)      Too many people are using “big data” incorrectly to mean any use of analytics, reporting, or conventional business intelligence.

QuestionTom goes onto say, “I saw recently, over 80 percent of the executives surveyed thought the term was overstated, confusing, or misleading”. So Tom asks why don’t we just stop using it. In the end, Tom struggles with ceasing his use of the term because the world noticed the name Big Data unlike other technological terms. Tom has even written a book on the subject—“Big Data at Work”. The question I have is do we in the IT industry want to really lose all the attention. It feels great to be in the cool crowd. However, CIOs that I have talked to say they are really worried about what will happen if their teams oversell Big Data and do not deliver tangible business outcomes. The reality Tom says it would be more helpful than saying, we are cool and we are working on big data to instead say instead we’re extracting customer transaction data from our log files in order to help marketing understand the factors leading to customer attrition”. I tend to agree with this thought but I would like to hear what you think? Should we as an industry retire the term Big Data?

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Author Twitter: @MylesSuer