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Image2What does Big Data have to do with Robitussin?

I will explain.

Robitussin is a legal pharmaceutical product commonly associated with coughs, colds and flu combinations.

It also features in comedian Chris Rock’s running gags about poverty, limited access to medicines and how some people got by.

In Chris’s childhood story the cure for every ailment in his neighbourhood, apart from imminent death or death itself, was Robitussin.

So it was used to fix most every ailment; asthma, cancer, a broken leg, and so on and so forth.

Whatever you had, Robitussin was the answer.

But, this wasn’t about a company like Pfizer making claims for their products.

I’m sure they would never dream of being anything other than totally ethical, decent and honest.

Chris Rock was telling a story, for comedic effect.

People who pimp big data in return for industry favours are not in the business of comedy.

They are in the business of hustling vapourware, half-truths and blatant bullshit.

Big data pimps claim it’s all new.

But it isn’t.

And they are not presenting fact.

There is nothing about Big Data that we haven’t seen before.

Big data pimps claim that methods and technologies used with Big Data are new.

But they aren’t.

Are Big Data pimps aware of the fact that they are frequently inaccurate in what they claim?

I was once told to never underestimate human kind’s ability to push the frontiers of stupidity.

But surely that can’t be the case.

I have no problem with most of the technology and methods that have been repackaged under the Big Data umbrella.

The thing is, none of them are new.

And a lot of the claims that are now made for Big Data have been roundly disproven over the last three decades and more.

But still the assertions come in thick and strong.

Like a never ending waft of the acrid stench of a nearby silage pit.

Want to do your job better? Big Data

Need insight into your organisation? Big Data

Need to know your customer? Big Data

Need to stick the beer next to the diapers? Big Data

Need to be pragmatic? Big Data

Need to process data in a parallel distributed processing environment? Big Data

Need to do search, sort and present? Big Data

Need to do computing with data? Big Data

Need to fight terrorism? Big Data

Need to cure AIDs? Big Data

Need to control Ebola? Big Data

There is an endless stream of Big Data bullshit.

And every day there is more.

I read a book on Big Data last week.

I won’t state the exact name of the title.

To protect the shameless and guilty who were responsible for its making.

But, it was something along the lines of ‘Big Data for Fuckwits’.

A complete and utter piece of perfidious, deceptive and artless shite.

Sure, that kind of thing drags the profession through the mud again.

But this nonsense is also protected under freedom of expression legislation.

So what can be done?

This blog piece was not meant to be a technical critique of the artless claims that are made in the name of Big Data.

Although there are many artless claims made to support the ‘new’ technology of Big Data.

For example, one could call people on a wide range of claims made to bolster the idea that Big Data is new.

Or even better, to correct blatant misrepresentation of Big Data, the history of IT and the evolution of database technologies.

Some Big Data pimps claim that databases evolved from the simple use of flat files and went directly to relational technology with no intervening developments.

This is bullshit.

It wilfully ignores a whole swath of database technologies, some of which are still in use in major organisations to support their core business IT applications.

Some Big Data pimps claim that Big Data processing was never done before.

This is also bullshit.

Data analytics has been carried out on Very Large Data Bases (VLDB) since the file size capacity of open operating systems grew exponentially and the price tag the hardware it ran on plummeted considerably.

Big Data pimps talk about Real-time Data Streams and Complex Even Processing as if they were new, and could only be contemplated if Big Data is an integral part of the mix.

This is worse than bullshit. It’s a damn fib.

Before Big Data ‘arrived’ on the scene, we could already do these things, and more. The only thing that was stopping some organisations from doing so was cost.

Another thing that Big Data pimps do is to regurgitate the ‘360 degree view of the business’ claim. We had this with MIS, then with Information Centres, Enterprise Data Warehousing and now Big Data.

This claim is so old and misleading that it should really be euthanized.

Don’t get me wrong, Enterprise Data Warehouses, done right, can deliver interesting benefits and valuable insight. But claiming that EDW would drive a 360 degree view of the organisation was no better than claiming that Big Data will deliver that total view. Bullshit!

But, for me, perhaps the biggest piece of boloney spouted by Big Data pimps, is this. “Big Data can spot hidden patterns in petabytes of information”.

This is AAA grade bullshit.

As anyone who knows anything about trying to identify hidden patterns in data, will know, there comes a point at which any increase in data volumes used in data analytics of a certain nature will actually diminish the probability of identifying any hidden patterns in that data.

I could go on about the nonsense claims of the Big Data hustlers. But it should be blatantly obvious what is going on.

How many more examples do people need for them to at least consider that they may be getting hustled by industry pimps?

Big data does not mean more and better insight, and it may frequently mean only one thing. That you have more valueless data to store.

People worry about leaving their domestic appliances on in standby mode, because of that little bit of energy that the standby light uses. So just imagine what is happening with vast amounts of valueless “Big data” kept on disks and in storage, 24x7x52, for years on end. How many standby lights does that all represent?

So, the only thing that the accumulation of very large quantities of valueless data is doing is this: indirectly producing more greenhouse gases and warming the planet.

The mindless application of big data dogma is not contributing to the Climate Change battle nor is it contributing insight or financial advantage.

So, beware of the pimps, hustlers and snake-oil merchants. Big Data is not a hi-tech turbo-charged Robitussin.

As always, please share your questions, views and criticisms on this piece using the comment box below. I frequently write about strategy, organisational, leadership and information technology topics, trends and tendencies. You are more than welcome to keep up with my posts by clicking the ‘Follow’ link and perhaps even send me a LinkedIn invite. Also feel free to connect via Twitter, Facebook and the Cambriano Energy website.

For more on the topic, check out my other recent posts:


File under: Good Strat, Good Strategy, Martyn Richard Jones, Martyn Jones, Cambriano Energy, Iniciativa Consulting, Iniciativa para Data Warehouse, Tiki Taka Pro

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