Defining Big Data: is it a big deal?


Two words. Seven letters. Three syllables.

How hard could it be to define a term that seems so, well, simple. I found out the hard way that defining Big Data is anything but easy. In fact, in my forthcoming book, I devote nearly 20 pages to describing that which we now call Big Data. Call it a big list of characteristics.

Sure, we all know about the three v's of Big Data: volume, velocity and variety. But that's not the whole story.

Far from it.

Is Big Data "manageable"? Is it internal, external or a bit of both? Is it only about the unstructured data? Can Small Data be big?

I could go on, but you get my point.

The Typical Big Hype

Much like any new technology or potential buzz term, Big Data has no shortage of evangelists and talking heads, myself included. (Case in point: cloud computing is replete with "formal" definitions.) It behooves just about every software vendor, consultancy, author, academic institution and pundit to proffer a unique definition. And many have.

Is a formal definition really essential? Well, yes and no. On one hand, the massive amounts and new sources of data streaming at us faster than ever in my view constitute something that we have yet to see. In fact, we have not seen this movie before. So, yes, organizations that want to leverage the tremendous opportunity that is Big Data should recognize that traditional mind-sets and tools won't suffice. Relational database management systems (RDBMSs) just can't handle petabytes of unstructured data. Get on board with Hadoop, columnar databases, NewSQL and other alternatives. Soon.

Yet, if you're the CIO or president of a company, do you really need a sanctioned definition to proceed? Of course not. In fact, waiting for the blessing of a third party before proceeding may well cost you profits, market share and other opportunities.

Simon Says

Let your competition fret about the proper definition of Big Data and whether or not it's a big deal. It is. While they dilly-dally, dig in. Deploy some new tools. Make some hires, especially a data scientist or two. Start changing the culture, imbuing it with more of a data-oriented mentality.

Something tells me that you won't regret it in a few years.


What say you?

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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