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Good morning fellow consumers; here’s a pop quiz question: What does Big Data have in common with Robitussin? Think about, take your time.

Okay, times up!

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

Robitussin also features in comedian Chris Rock’s running gag on poverty, illness and misfortune, and in spite of all of that, how some people got by.

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

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

Whatever ailed you, Robitussin was the necessary remedy.

But, this wasn’t about a company like Pfizer making claims for their products. It wasn’t Bayer selling flim-flam snake oil. It wasn’t about Glaxo flogging a universal panacea. I’m sure they would never dream of being anything other than totally ethical, decent and honest.

When Chris Rock talked of Robitussin he was telling a story, for comedic effect.

However, people who ‘fluff up’ Big Data in return for favours are not in the business of comedy, or for that matter, have any issues with the truth, or lack of it.They are in the business of hustling vapourware, half-truths and arrant nonsense; for a price. Now I assume they do it for a price, as putting one’s ‘hiney’ and one’s soul at the service of ‘business’, purely out of the goodness of one’s heart, would be seriously dopey.

Big Data populists claim it’s all new. But it isn’t. And they are not presenting the facts and there is nothing about Big Data that we haven’t seen before the ill-advised name of Big Data was ‘invented’.

Big Data populists also claim that methods and technologies used with Big Data are new; but they aren’t, it’s ignorance that’s says things like that, ignorance or drugs.

Are Big Data populists 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 acrid obnoxiousness.

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 analyse data in a parallel distributed processing environment? Big Data!

Need to do search, sort, do ‘data science’ and present? Big Data!

Need to do business computing with data? Big Data!

Need to fight terrorism, organised crime and unorganised stupidity? Big Data! Big Data can cure itself?

Need to cure AIDs? Big Data!

Need to control Ebola? Big Data!

There is an endless stream of Big Data baloney, and every day there is more of it.

I read a book on Big Data last year. 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 The Intellectually Challenged’. A complete and utter piece of perfidious, deceptive and artless nonsense. But you got to laugh, it’s tragic, but it’s also very funny.

Sure, that kind of thing drags the professions 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 and fact-free 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 populists claim that databases evolved from the simple use of flat files and went directly to relational technology with no intervening developments.

This is nonsense.

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 populists claim that Big Data processing was never done before.

This is also nonsense.

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 populists 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 nonsense. It’s a 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.

I recently read that when Big Data technology evolves there will no longer be a need to have multiple copies of the same digital data files?

What this particular Big Data guru didn’t realise was that this ‘feature’ was a fundamental aspect of operating systems developed in the sixties and seventies. Yes, four decades ago.

Another thing that Big Data populists do is to revisit 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, misleading and contemptible that it should really be simply laughed at.

Don’t get me wrong, Enterprise Data Warehouses (Inmon or Kimball, take your pick), 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 same total view. Which is nonsense on steroids, running on stilts.

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

This is AAA+ grade nonsense that you can take to the Big Data laughing academy.

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 populists all day, yes, the variety, volumes and velocity of Big Data hype knows no bounds. But it should be blatantly obvious what is going on here.

How many more examples do people need for them to at least consider that they may be getting hustled by industry supported ‘independent’ populists?

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.

On another tack, what about the environment?

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. That’s climate change for you and me.

The mindless application of Big Data dogma is not contributing to the Climate Change battle nor is it contributing insight or financial advantage, it is not fixing real world problems, and it is not universally applicable.

So, beware of the Big Data populists, hustlers and snake-oil merchants. Big Data is not a hi-tech turbo-charged Robitussin, and it’s certainly not for everyone. In fact, the business models that make sense are those that Warren Buffet and other smart investors take a shine to, and these businesses are generally not based on grandiose, ‘innovative’ and flaky models that grab the popular attention and published opinion, nor do they have ‘value’ that is based more on irrationality than on hard facts.

Many thanks for reading this piece.

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 aLinkedIn invite. Also feel free to connect via Twitter, Facebook and the Cambriano Energy website.

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