Gartner On Big Data: Everyone's Doing It, No One Knows Why

The gravitational pull of Big Data is now so strong that even people who haven't a clue as to what it's all about report that they're running Big Data projects.

Strange, but true.

According to a recent Gartner report, 64% of enterprises surveyed indicate that they're deploying or planning Big Data projects. Yet even more acknowledge that they still don't know what to do with Big Data. Have the inmates officially taken over the Big Data asylum?

Real Adoption Of Big Data

According to a new Gartner report entitled "Big Data Adoption in 2013 Shows Substance Behind the Hype," Big Data is moving beyond along the hype cycle with an increasing number of companies launching Big Data projects. Hence, while 27% of enterprises had launched a Big Data project in 2012, with another 31% intending to do so in the next two years, by 2013 30% had deployed Big Data projects, with another 34% expecting to do so in the next two years. 

That's a big jump (64% in 2013 compared to 58% in 2012), and it reflects a growing confidence that Big Data can help to enhance the customer experience (54% cited this as their driving motivation), improve process efficiency (42%) and launch new products or business models (39%). 

Which it can. Maybe.

How Do I Turn It On?

The problem for many of these same enterprises is that they struggle to understand what Big Data is all about, and how to make it work. When Gartner asked what the biggest Big Data challenges were, the responses suggest that for all these companies plans to move ahead with Big Data projects, they still don't have a good idea as to what they're doing, and why:

This isn't to suggest that these enterprises are stupid. Rather, it seems that they've allowed the hype around Big Data to both motivate them to start but also confuse them as to where they should go. This reminds me of a great excerpt from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

Alice: "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"—so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

When 56% of respondents struggle to know how to get value from their data yet are either deploying or planning to imminently deploy a Big Data project, we have a serious disconnect. This is one reason I've called into question attempts to quantify the Big Data market. There are more questions than answers right now in the Big Data market.

Big Data: It's About Iteration

All of which is why I advise companies to start small in their Big Data efforts. Given that all of the essential Big Data technology is open source, there's no need to start a Big Data project with a Big Check to any vendor.

Nor should it start with a classified ad as you search for Big Data talent. Indeed, following Gartner's advice, it's far easier to train an existing employee on Big Data technologies than it is to teach them your business.

Big Data is all about asking the right questions, which requires business context, and then iterating on your project as you learn which data sources are valuable, and which questions yield real insights. You don't have to know the end from the beginning, but you should have a clearer view of what you hope to achieve with Big Data than the Gartner seems to indicate most have.

 

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