Big brother, big data and big analytics


A lot of ink is being spilled over Steve Jobs leaving Apple. Okay here is a little more. Some of my younger friends and colleagues are surprised I have purchased an iPad. Apparently, to younger folk, most persons of my advanced years seem technologically challenged. But I learned a valuable lesson back in the Mesozoic Era in January 1984 from the new era of “personal computing.” As a sales engineer, I was always trying to help my customers envision the computerized production systems we wanted to sell them for the factory floor. So when Apple ran the first Mac advertisement at the Super Bowl that year, with the George Orwell “Big Brother” imagery (read IBM) I just had to get one. My boss thought it was silly and told me I should have bought an IBM.

My customers loved the little layout drawings I could produce on this curiously designed box and asked to use them in their internal presentations to the big dogs that had to be convinced to go forward. My IT manager found out that I had connected to our VAX cluster from my home over a 1200 baud modem with VT220 terminal emulation. I could access our cluster, work on my spreadsheets, file my reports, and check my “DECMAIL.” She asked to see this little machine so I lent it to her for a couple of days. She brought it back and said “interesting machine but I don’t like that mouse thingy” (no kidding she really said that). Apparently, she preferred to type in command level prompts rather than point and click on icons.

The next year we won a $1 million order for an automated material handling system at Apple and I had an opportunity to see their manufacturing up close and personal. A really unique organization in nearly every respect, they had no titles on their business cards so project meetings were puzzling at first; I had to write down functional titles for all of them so I could keep things straight. They were pleased to know I owned my little Mac but they were disappointed that we used a PDP-11 to control the production system. After holding the order hostage until we could convince them we could not use an Apple Lisa to run the line, they relented and accepted the DEC.

Technology was changing fast then and continues to change and change and change; in some sense it has always changed fast but the rate of change has picked up more steam over time. Steve Jobs seemed to accelerate the rate of change over his long and famous career. But still today we see all kinds of stuff that wasn’t in the atmosphere just a couple of years ago. Consider what is common in our lexicon in 2011; grid computing, in-database, in-memory, cloud computing, smartphones, computing tablets, social media and so forth.

This year, we are hearing all about “big data.” It seems like a new article in a publication comes out every hour. I used Google trends to track big data and discovered it has really caught fire early this year in news reference volume:

Actually, I first heard of this term a little over a year ago in a blog entry by SAS CMO Jim Davis. At SAS, we have been very aware of the growth of data for some time and the implications for our customers and their analytical needs. Mike Ames makes that very point in his recent blog post. He says:

“The term “big data” is all the rage right now, however the term “big” is relative. At SAS we have been called on to do “big data” projects and more importantly “big analytics” projects for many years now. In fact, we are the pioneers of analytics on big data.”

After reading Mike’s blog I went back and used Google Trends to track big data combined with big analytics. Turns out very few mentions are together but at least it is on the radar (BA is the little red line that appears in Q2 2011):

But some thinkers are getting concerned that all the hype around big data is distracting us as Jim Davis recently said at the SAS Power Series in Chicago, as reported by Renee Nocker. The growth of data didn’t start overnight, Jim said. And it most definitely will continue not only to grow in volume but also to grow in rate of growth like it has been doing.

My new PC has 8GB of RAM and my little Mac back in 1984 had but 128KB! No Angry Bird games for that machine! My Mac came with two programs, MacWrite and MacPaint.

With the Mac I could use the mouse thingy and MacPaint and make an almost scaled drawing holding a ruler to the screen (yes I really did that, don’t laugh). Now I can draw things on my iPad with my finger and post it to Facebook in seconds. Oh yes, I can do about a million other things with the how-many iOS Apps now available?

We will miss Steve on the business scene and wish him the very best. He went after Big Brother in 1984 and eventually he prevailed, albeit taking a lot of time and twists and turns along the way. Now, in 2011 we are faced with big data. oh wait, SAS was founded in 1976, so this is really nothing new. Mike Ames has a good summary on this too:

“We are finding that the tough part of big data is the same problem that faces any analytic project: First you have to formulate a problem that you expect to be solved with analytics, next the data needs to be filtered, aggregated and structured in a way to yield some value from analysis, and finally the effort required to harvest value from big data is worth the investment.”

So bring on Big Data and we will introduce her to big analytics. Been doing that a good long while.


About Author

Michael Newkirk

Director, Industry Practices, Global Sales Support and Enablement

As Director, SAS Industry Practices, Mike Newkirk’s team is responsible for driving the development of industry-specific strategies, enablement, messaging and positioning of SAS solutions in the Government, Education and Financial Services sectors.


  1. Brian Coughlan on

    Good article:-) However I'm guessing you meant 8GB of ram? Either that or you really need to upgrade that PC!

    • Michael Newkirk
      Michael Newkirk on

      Yipes! Exactly right Brian. Just shows the point I guess. MB came and went! I don't know if Gates actually said this, but I have seen people quote him as saying "640K is all anyone would ever need".

  2. Michael, a nice article although i'm unsure as to when this was written as your 'new' pc has only 8Mb RAM?

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