Saturday, March 30, 2013

Big Data: The Holy Grail of IT?

Decision-makers in IT might have received a notable number of invitations for Big Data events recently. The announcements promise analytical insight leading to cost savings, profit gains and competitive advantages. Sounds like the Holy Grail of IT, but aren’t these promises awfully unspecific if you have to account for a considerable invest in new technology? How will Big Data concepts apply to your enterprise, industry and market environment? Are you willing to take the responsibility for most crucial estimations beforehand to come up with an investment plan? Are you able to execute the organizational and process-related change initiatives suggested by Big Data analysis, to transform your enterprise into a truly data-driven organization?

We should have to look at the specifics of Big Data usage scenarios to get a clue: Let’s start by listing the leading and most prominent Big Data adopters: Google search, Yahoo advertising, Amazon recommendations and Facebook social graph are rushing to my mind. What do these have in common? They gather a vast amount and variety of data about their users by offering truly compelling services - and they know how to make money out of this information. But in the end, aren’t all four examples singular solutions? Nowadays, we can buy Big Data appliances of-the-shelf, but no Big Data business solutions. How comes, aren’t these success stories reproducible?

Technically yes, but a Big Data solution just cannot live on its own. It needs a synergetic effect with a great application that encourages or tricks consumers to reveal something about them:

The innovators and early adopters I listed before are all US-based, where a liberal spirit is limiting public discussion about data privacy. Here it seems as if everything that’s not explicitly forbidden or regulated is worth to be implemented without questioning. This is elementarily different in Europe, where we recently saw two counterexamples on the news tickers: The German credit agency Schufa announced a research activity on how to incorporate public social media data into their reports. The Spanish telecommunication provider Telefonica announced the will to commercialize the movement data of their mobile customers. Both evoked a public outcry, stopping the Big Data activities for the fear of sounding too much like Big Brother scenarios.

In addition, all these Big Data innovators grew on venture capital. The primary internet, social, communication and shopping services visible for the end users are free of charge or not paying off. The secondary business of utilizing the user potential in a different context, e.g. for advertising, cross-selling and value-added services, attracts investors and brings in the money. Seems it’s easier to take your time for playful approaches and to come up with a business model later when you’re not spending your own money.

Now, how do we start our chase for the Big Holy Data Grail? We need a noble and visionary king of a liberal and non-regulated country to sponsor our venture. We need to be aware that the Grail might manifest as a whole different business than we might expect. And most importantly, it takes a worthy and brave knight with an innovative and creative business idea to find the Grail.

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