The Definition of Big Data

Thursday August 21st, 2014

As part of my duties in MC’ing the second of Teradata ANZ Summit series earlier this week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with not only, arguably the best, lineup of speakers that we have had at a Teradata Summit including Teradata Chief Analytics Officer Bill Franks along with Teradata customers including Barry Sandison of Department Human Services, but also to connect with a number of new and existing customers of Teradata.

The most refreshing outcomes of the day were that the house was virtually packed, nearly everyone stuck around to the end and a larger proportion than ever were actually from the business and analytic communities within their organisations and fields.

Without going into too much detail a few very pertinent items arose in the various talks that resonated with many people in the room:

What is the definition of big data?:  Bill Franks kicked off his talk with his two word answer to this question…..”Who Cares?”. All were enthralled, because he is absolutely right. Who does, and no one should, care what format it is in, where it comes from, nor its velocity, variety, and whatever other v’s you care to mention. I caught a presentation at another industry event a couple of weeks ago where 12 v’s were recounted.  The conclusion of that conversation was the same as Bill’s.  Who cares?  What is important to the business analytics community is:

  • How easily can I get to it?
  • What does it tell me?
  • How do I feed the things I discover into my operations to drive business value?

Both speakers concluded that people who think the challenges of Big Data include: whether you use Hadoop, the price of storage and software and the size, speed and nature of the data are missing the point altogether.

Following on from the previous point the focus of analytics is shifting away from the efficient provisioning of data and over to the effective understanding of what it is telling you and how you use it.  This has spawned two very distinct new CxO’s – Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer.  While FRANK BIEN  hits the nail on the head on many fronts and aligns with Bill Franks on the distinction that the CDO will gather, organise and provision the data and the CAO will use, leverage and drive business off the insights. I can’t agree with his assertion that “We predict the CDO will evolve into a broader role: the chief analytics officer, or CAO”. 

Data will keep getting bigger, more different (sic) arrive faster and change more rapidly.  The Officer (or Office) responsible for that will have the challenge of selecting the right technology and applications to provide simple and seamless to everything it has where as the CAO will care less and less about such things.  The CAO is firmly planted in the business while the CDO will drift more into the technological world.

This distinction of Technology and Business manifested also in a number of discussions around the Summit. Most notably supporting the business technical divide and pertaining specifically to the role of Data scientist.  Jonathan Rubinsztein in his article postulates “There is a lot of talk about “Data Scientists” but is that nothing more than just a fancy title for BI analysts?”. 

I would like to take-it one step further and suggest that there is a Tsunami of Modellers ordering new business cards adjusting their titles.  I have seen many updates of people in the same company doing the same roll formerly “Modeller” now “Data Scientist”.  While the modeller will possess many of the skills to truly unlock the value in the new analytics available through the digital and big data explosions it is the ability to tell a story, the ability to operationalise insights and to delve into the computer science when they need to that will set the Data Scientist apart.

I do however caveat this with a caution from Dr Mohammad Rifaie of Royal Bank of Canada who added an often missed angle when he all but dismissed the use of the “Data Scientist” hype by reminding me that the term Scientist tends to trivialise the economist nature of the task and most importantly using the skills to drive business value.  He also went onto say You need to know the business to be able to change it”.

Brenden Bertuola ia a Senior Industry Consultant, Financial Services and CRM at Teradata who has managed large teams of internal and external business, analytics and IT resources delivering business operations, business process re-engineering and legacy system migration and retirement.He is focused on understanding business problems and assisting organisations in choosing and applying the right tools to solve them.

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