A field of dreams

Most people who know me, at least in a professional capacity, will know that I am no unconditional supporter of Data Warehousing, never mind the more plague ridden swamps inhabited by Big Data, Data Lakes, Travelling IoT, Dodgy Data Science, Instant Data Scientists (just add water) and New-Age Machine Learning. So, many will not be surprised by this heterogeneous post-modern pastiche of ideas, impressions and bagatelles.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: When people and organisations collect, store and search through massive volumes of peripheral data of dubious value, we call this Big Data and Data Science, and we hail it as the next great thing in revolutionising business opportunities and the management of business data.

When people collect excessive numbers of items of little or no monetary value and store them in an unstructured manner we call this a hoarding disorder.

According to the ‘experts’, hoarding disorders could be due to severe depression, psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia) or obsessive compulsive order. So, could cognitive behavioural therapy be also applied to those who think there are amazing gold nuggets to be found in every conceivable piece of peripheral data, no matter how large or small the enterprise?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Much of Big Data evangelism, including the adoration of the totally data-driven organisation is a post-modern manifestation of activities that seek to dominate and control human nature – even if that is about conditioning people to buy crap of no utility or value and which they don’t really need. Big Data, like instrumental-scientific activity, is used to create a reality to fit this picture of the dominance of nature. It provides a distorted and biased world view which is then sold as a true picture of the world. The last time we had this type of mass conversion to subjective reasoning in Europe it ended in a Holocaust that targeted more than 6 million European Jews and resulted in the deaths of an additional 60 million men, women and children.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Is the Hadoop Big Data ecosphere like the data management equivalent of a low-cost eat-all-you-want hybrid gymnasium where the emphasis is on lifting as much weight as one can without any real consideration of either the tangible or subjective benefits or disadvantages?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: We are reaching the end of the Big Data hyperbole boom. What will happen to all of the ‘Big Data’/’Data Scientist’ skills and experience that people have striven to obtain, once dust of the Big Data bust starts to settle? What value will these niche skills really have in the future?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Will the race to the bottom in terms of every organisation being a data driven organisation result in the inevitable death of innovation, differentiation and real choice as elements in market-oriented business? It could be said that the movement for Big Data (in many ways, if not all) seems to be also trying to prove that post-modernism is not an improvement over modernity or the classics, but a convoluted return to a digitised pre-classic jungle that will serve us no good whatsoever.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Maybe thought leadership is not about leadership or thought. Maybe leadership is more about encouraging, protecting and nurturing critical thinking, risk taking and commitment and professionalism to the tasks at hand. Maybe that’s part and parcel of thoughtful leadership.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: In the EU and elsewhere the fraudulent promotion of fake miracle cures is punishable under law. Also, the unqualified recommendation of non-traditional investment products and real-estate investments is now considered a breach of care in many countries – which can result in orders for punitive payments. Misrepresentation in advertising is also subject to disciplinary sanctions. These are all facets of living in a modern and democratic civil society of law. So, how come Big Data gurus can publish infomercials to promote universally applicable Big Data miracle cures to small, medium and large businesses alike? How can Big Data promoters get away with telling people that Big Data Science is the sexiest job since forever and that learning how to use half-baked technology is the future for the world and for them? And, how can people get away with claiming that any investment in Big Data is an investment worth making? Sure consumer protection laws should apply here as well… right? After all, a social media platform is still a publishing platform… and an infomercial is as ‘good’ as an ad.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: We are told to “stop thinking we can run datacenters better than Amazon, Google and Microsoft.” But, what if Amazon, Google and Microsoft hadn’t started to imagine that they could run data-centres better than IBM, Unisys and HP? Isn’t AWS just another computer bureau service, and what is stopping anyone from improving on that, or indeed introducing a game changer, such as elastic networked in-house facility time-sharing?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: FILE THIS UNDER “OUT OF INTEREST” A response to yet another fantastic Big Data success story that covered everything apart from how the project involved Bog Data and how the project could be classified as an amazing business success: “A couple of questions… if that’s in order… Which flavour of Big Data technology was used for this project… was it an open source Hadoop distribution or Hortonworks, Cloudera or something else? If not, what was the underlying database management system used?” RESPONSE TO THIS AND OTHER QUESTIONS: Absolute silence.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Popular newspapers and magazines such as Scientific American talk of “When the Big Lie Meets Big Data”, but skilfully avoid mentioning salient and all pervasive aspects of hype, post-truth and real-news such as ‘When the Big Lie is Big Data’.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: What’s the significant and tangible difference between the clairvoyants, psychics and spiritualists who say they can predict the future and the surfeit of Big Data charlatans who claim that everyone benefits from Big Data?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: I am told, time and time again, that Big Data pays for itself? What is so astounding, awesome and amazing about any business initiative that simply “pays for itself”? Is Big Data the biggest con since the dot com bomb and the largest smoke-and-mirrors show since the fake sub-prime fiasco? Yeah, Big Data pays for itself… “Mission accomplished”.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: If anyone tells you that you are nothing without Big Data then unfriend them. You don’t need that sort of negativity.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: If I knock up a random data generator of interesting looking “facts” that can produce a petabyte of “original” thought in less time than it takes to say “I have another amazing Big Data success story” will that generated data be of value to the business? Because if it isn’t, then what does this say about the importance of the size of data over its actual relevance and time and place utility? After all, does size itself imply time and place utility? Or does it mean we don’t really know that Big Data is of intrinsic value?

More to the point, why do people insist that Big Data has value, as if big and data implied value, when the facts of the matter are far from clear?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Given the dearth of coherent, tangible and verifiable Big Data success stories, isn’t the widespread use of the Big Data meme little better than social-media cognitive distortion? So, amazing Big Data stories or lies from the land of fantasy?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Will many professionals have seen the amazing new ad by yet another zero-value-adding offshorer? If you missed it here’s a rough approximation of what it entailed: If you can get 65% or more on a test to spell ‘Hadoop’, ‘Spark’ or ‘Splunk’ then you are the Big Data developer we are looking for. Why do some big IT service corporations treat professionals in this condescending fashion? Post your own examples of cynical abuse, below.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: After just reading the latest shameless and mendacious over-promotion of Big Data I am led to ponder this question… Could it be that the cheapest, most obvious and most beneficial Big Data projects are those that are considered on technical grounds, are discarded on business grounds and are then roundly condemned on ethical grounds? Back in the day one could almost take it for granted that academia would be well above the morals of St Giles. These days, I’m not so sure.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: There’s a lot of brazen flim-flam, hyperbole and worse about how Big Data is powering a revolution in banking. However, out of curiosity, I have frequently asked how Big Data is actually relevant to any of the applications usually cited as Big Data applications? After all, all of the applications mentioned were in place before Big Data came on the scene. So, what advantage is there in using Big Data for cyber security, operational performance, risk management or product lifecycle management, etc. after all, all of the data used in these types of operations is typically highly structured to start with. Any ideas?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: When people discover the amazing power of relational technology on MPP platforms, will Hadoop for decision support and statistics be rendered utterly irrelevant?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Are CIOs unready for Big Data because they are as dumb as rocks or is it because they can actually spot a zero-value-adding snake-oil solution a mile off?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Google created in-house technologies to service their unique business proposition and then got many thousands of people to work on extending, improving, replacing and testing their platform components… for free. If that’s not the ultimate expression of smart business, I don’t know what is. It could well be argued that after advertising, Big Data has become Google’s biggest differentiator.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Is applying mathematical Machine Learning to Big Data rather like taking an idiot savant to an all-you-can-lift buffet, force-feeding them refined-carbohydrates and saturated-fats and then asking them to come up with the next greatest thing in business?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Three articles you are unlikely to see anytime soon. 1) The Incredible Ways Big Data Charlatans are Using Flim-flam about Machine Learning to Further Con the Willingly Gullible 2) Being Totally Data Driven Makes One Totally Free 3) Big Data is the new Big Lie.

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Read the following, think about it for five minutes and then if you wish, comment on it. “Marr, Piatetsky and Davenport, et al… Fighting the good fight in the name of universal Big Data domination whilst simultaneously shaking off any pretence of detachment, caution or academic rigour. Très magnifique!” Is that a fair, decent and honest assessment or was this simply a show of misplaced benevolence?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Isaac Asimov is on record as stating “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Is the most overused class of phrase in Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, AI (including Machine Learning) and Analytics variations on the theme of “I know very little about this area, but this is my opinion”? Does democratic data management now mean that one person’s ignorance, belief and guesswork is just as good as another person’s broad and deep knowledge and experience?

HERE’S A THOUGHT: Consider the following and let me know your opinion. Okay? Here it is: Most businesses will not be basing their business strategies on the analysis of a glut of selfies, youthful twittering, home videos of cute kittens, or the complete works of William Shakespeare – ink blots included. Almost all strategic business analysis (whether done by a professional statistician or a data scientist) will continue to be carried out using structured data obtained primarily from internal operational systems and external structured data providers.

Many thanks for reading and for the opportunity to shoe-horn the word ‘bagatelles’ into a tessellation of Big Data related curiosities.

 Martyn Richard Jones

Madrid 13th March 2017