Beating about the big data bush

Big data should be all about instant (and big) returns, shouldn't it? Nick Booth reports

I love the concept of these agile corporations, which move at the speed of thought and ‘leveragise’ the heck out of any zeitgeist that pops its head above the parapet. With their mobile workforce of empowered decisions makers I bet they outcompete any of the dinosaurs who still think inside the box of old fashioned paradigms.

Ha! Gone are those days!

Yes, these mobile enterprises sound impressively adapted to a marketplace that’s open 24/7, where only the rapid adapting, fast moving predators can survive.

Mind you, I’ve never actually met one. I’ll let you know if I do.

I thought I’d stumbled across one the other day. They told me how their revolutionary Hadoop type big data platform was going to give companies game-changing insights into their customer behaviour.

"That sounds interesting," I said. "Can you explain how it works? Or offer me some examples?"

I was attempting a ‘drill down’ exercise of my own – trying to extract meaning (or insights as we must call them now) from the silo of information they’d cut and pasted into a press release.

“Ah,” said the outsourced company representative, “I’ll get back to you.”

Three days later, he finally got in contact, through the now time-honoured channel of email, with another impressive volume of words, cut and pasted from a different source. It contained the same clichés and buzzwords but, to be fair, they were now in a different order.  It still didn’t make any sense.

So much for big data, insights and agility. To paraphrase the National Rifle Association, Hadoop doesn’t make killer applications: people make killer applications.

A crucial insight

Meanwhile, more marketing-led ‘insights’ began to invade my consciousness. The next one was about how companies chuck away machines when they could easily upgrade them.

That’s a story after my own heart. I hate letting things go. I hate the disruption of buying a new laptop and losing half your contacts and about three days of your life and, usually, a job or two. It breaks my heart to see so much junk defiling the countryside. So I asked for more details.

A staggering 40% of people admit computer problems and slow technology are their main problem at home, apparently (have you noticed how often people in marketing led surveys are ‘staggering’? Where and how are these quizzes conducted?)

According to computer upgrade retailer the UK economy could save £1.78bn on IT purchasing by buying memory and storage upgrades (such as Flash and SSD) instead of junking their machines and starting again.

Kingston Technology runs a similar upgrade service for resellers. Stick an SSD into your hard drive slot and you’ve suddenly got a whole new machine for a fraction of the price of a Macbook. And, more importantly, you’ve got everything organized the way you liked it.

That’s a point. How much time does it save you on migrating all your data and contacts onto a new machine?

There are no figures for that.

It might be worth finding out though, because that’s the sort of return on investment figure people will want to know. Big data – in fact all data - should be about instant returns, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t we be getting instant answers? And are they actionable?

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