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Big data; big con?
Friday, 2nd March 2012
"Big data" is the latest buzzword in IT and "enterprise search" is making a comeback but do these terms actually offer anything other than neat phraseology for what information professionals have been doing for years?
When I first heard the term "big data", I thought it might have something to do with the current British Prime Minister’s view of society, but fortunately, it isn’t. It is, in fact, the hot IT buzzword of 2012.
“Big data has become viable as cost-effective approaches have emerged to tame the volume, velocity and variability of massive data,” writes Edd Dumbill in his recent blog post What is big data?
Help in bringing order to chaos by taming vast quantities of data and turning it into something more meaningful is something that’s now within the reach of most organisations, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This is largely thanks to tools such as the business data catalog component in MS SharePoint or standalone products like QlikView where data typically stored in spreadsheets is extracted and presented as business intelligence dashboards.
So, big data is all about taming vast quantities of the stuff and presenting it to the right people at the right time - which is precisely what information professionals are good at and have been doing for a long time.
Another term apparently making a comeback is "enterprise search", and enterprise search is a valuable, and growing component of big data. Well, that’s convenient and reassuring isn’t it? Lots of data, but all perfectly discoverable and presentable – if you have the right tools.
But do organisations necessarily know what data they have and which bits of it are genuinely useful to the business? Even if they found it, would they recognise it as valuable?
There’s a great deal more to taming the tide of data and making it understandable and relevant than simply imposing a degree of technological structure upon it. Is it just me or do others think that all this talk of big data and enterprise search sounds suspiciously like big companies who are big players in the technology industries trying to make big bucks?
I can’t help but think of all the hype surrounding “knowledge management” back in the mid 90s as the latest, greatest thing. All you needed was to invest in the appropriate “technical solution" and the tacit knowledge resident in the heads of employees could be unlocked and unleashed, giving your organisation a “competitive advantage".
Well, it seems I’m not alone in being a little suspicious. In an excellent and timely article, Matt Mullen poses the question that Big Data plus Enterprise Search equals Big Enterprise Disappointment?
So, it seems that big data, like the big society (there is a connection after all), while sounding very grand and full of promise, is a bit empty. Big data, big society – big terms more like!
By Dale Moore
Dale Moore is employed as an information manager and English language teacher at a private language school in the South West of England. He has a masters degree in information management from the University of Sheffield and over 12 years experience as an information practitioner.
He has worked for a number of organisations of all sizes from the BBC in London to government funded regional entities providing business support to small companies.
Dale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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