10th December 2021
Martyn Jones is Chief Scientist and Information Architect at Cambriano Energy. For better or worse, he is known as the Big Data Contrarian. He is the author of the widely acclaimed eBook Laughing @ Big Data, available at amazon.com.
Tea with The Data Contrarian is a series of interviews around data and analytics.
Today, Martyn talks with the great Afilonius Rex on contemporary trends, fads, and fancies in data, analytics and more.
To begin at the beginning
The show is about to begin. Today’s conversation will be between Martyn Jones and Afilonius Rex, and they will be discussing data, analytics, and more. We are delighted that tens of thousands have joined to hear “the word.”
The show must go on
Today I will be discussing all things data with Afilonius Rex, inventor of the Symbiotic Data Universe, No Limits Data and Analytics, and Information Centre 4.0. Afilonius is a frequent visitor to chez le non-conformiste des données, a recurrent contributor to data scandals, and a legend in her own lunch-time.
She possesses an acerbic wit, a talent for detecting bulllshit, and a fantastic flair for simplifying. Yet, despite that, she is an all-around good egg.
Afilonius: Nailed it!
Martyn: So, welcome back to the show Afilonius. It’s great to be able to speak with you once again.
Afilonius: It’s a pleasure to be here again, Marty.
Martyn: A lot has gone under the bridge in this last year, especially regarding data and analytics.
Tell me, what do you make of things that have sunk, floated, or emerged in the last twelve months or so in this eponymous era?
Like, what are the key novelties that have emerged or are emerging, and what are the constants that make these last twelve months unique?
Afilonius: The moonshine in IT is becoming even more voluminous, but at the same time, it has, in many cases, become a little more subtle, flexible, and compromising. It’s still there and noticeable to the trained eye, but it is presented a little better. In many respects, it’s still the “big lie” technique but more refined. Less raging monster and more fluffy-kitten.
Martyn: Any particular examples worth mentioning?
Afilonius: Well, yeah! Some Big Data pundits were like full-on, thick-of-thieves, holy-rollers when it came to the intensity and disbelief of their evangelising shtick. You had people, like that guy Bernie, what-ever-his-face is, Fuzzy Cola and Barbie Ballockin, Astro-turfing Big Data BS far and wide. And you had social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter seemingly stuck right in there, actively encouraging all that damaging deceit. These guys basically claimed that Big Data was a universal panacea, the greatest thing since sliced bread, and you either bought into it or you died.
Absolutely not. It’s nonsense, of course.
These days the new evangelists of new shiny things are qualifying their remarks with something like “it may not be appropriate for every business” or “if it ain’t broke, you might not have to fix it”. It sort of makes it more believable even if, at the end of the day, it’s just blah, blah, blah. Slice it and dice however you like, but it’s still nonsense.
Martyn: Isn’t this, in turn, driving creation and innovation?
Afilonius: Oh, wait up there! In terms of innovation, I quite like the quote from Michael Schrage, who said that “innovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.”
Martyn: And in terms of creation, where are we with that?
Afilonius: I see a lot of exciting and newish businesses in the data and analytics technology space, although a lot of it has been here before.
Martyn: In what ways?
Afilonius: In terms of things before, I refer to the cut and close tech companies. The word cut and close originally came from the automobile sector and, in particular, scrapyards. It basically involves car parts of cars involved in accidents. So, you take the rear of a vehicle with its front totalled and the front of a car that has had the rear destroyed. You weld those two parts together to make a new car (of the same brand and model, of course).
Martyn: But that’s illegal, right?
Afilonius: Fortunately, yes. But not in tech companies.
Martyn: Cut and shut in the tech sector. How does that work?
Afilonius: That’s an excellent question. And here’s an example. It’s like a tech startup will visit the tech scrapyards of Apache and Open-Source past, see what’s on offer – survey the estate – and pick up and cobble together a seemingly new product out of various bits and pieces of last decade speculative software developments. Such developments ultimately failed to allure and then crashed and burned.
Martyn: But that is to be welcomed, right?
Afilonius: It really depends. From one level of abstraction, it might seem attractive to opportunists and investors, for example. From another perspective, people might not see how real business value could be obtained by simply deploying these crude versions of modern-day Heath Robinson contraptions for data and analytics.
Martyn: But there has been a lot of investment interest in these tech startups, right?
Afilonius: Being an investor doesn’t necessarily mean that one is wise. That’s pretty much the same for any role. Sometimes people repeat the same things ad infinitum, hoping for different outcomes. In business, that’s not smart.
Martyn: I notice that many well-funded but small tech companies are offering what they seem to be calling data mesh enabling technologies. How do you think that will pan out?
Afilonius: In normal circumstances, I would advise taking a wait and see approach. However, these are not normal-circumstance times.
Martyn: I see gratuitous and interested potshots taken by some of the data mesh disciples against data warehousing. Any views on that?
Afilonius: Yeah, that’s true, but you know, they are simply attempting to create superficial interest, excitement and the impression of demand by rubbishing what they don’t like and polarising the landscape with inanities, half-truths and dishonest revisionism. As you rightly pointed out elsewhere, they call data warehousing centralised and monolithic for no good reason. Still, they are simply using terms like centralised and monolithic to mean “technologies, products and architectures I don’t like and don’t really understand.”
Martyn: I have been trying to get my head around all of this data mesh stuff. I have read and watched a ton of material on it. And I have been asking a lot of questions. But it’s curious to see the degrees of cultish puritanical zeal exhibited by some of its unquestioning sycophants.
Afilonius: Yes, we are coming to the end of 2021, and some people still prefer to believe than to think.
Martyn: You talked some time ago of seeing a long line of associated, trite and neo-nihilistic fads. Tell us more about that.
Afilonius: Dostoevsky wrote that I think it was in The Idiot, that “lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man.”
Martyn: An interesting observation.
Afilonius: Yes, and I have the impression that there has been a long litany of initiatives that have gone out of their way to rubbish sound architectural, management and technological approaches to business problems and opportunities. In two words, sound strategies that you can actually execute.
These things started small and then grew like topsy to become the stuff of authoritarian megalomaniacs. Hence Agile at Scale, or better said, bullshit by design, is another toxic and viral substance in the body-politic of many corporations. Also, it’s no surprise that people who have been gunning for data warehousing since the start of this millennium have influenced like-minded colleagues in the same organisations.
Martyn: Foxy and company?
Afilonius: Exactly! And more! Foxy has been out to crock data warehousing since forever. Bernie tried to use LinkedIn to do the same.
Martyn: Recently, I reached out to the data mesh folk to ask them to rectify, in my view, their erroneous interpretation of data warehousing. Thinking about it, I wonder if that was that a smart move?
Afilonius: Did you get a reply?
Martyn: No, they sloped off in a funk.
Afilonius: Sure. Typical. That’s the level of it. But it was a good move to ask. An honest move. A wise move. But ultimately probably a waste of time, in my opinion.
At this stage of the game, the data mesh folk will have their game plan set out, and there will be little or no deviation from that for the foreseeable future. Tech has become a bit of a mirror of some countries’ desperate state of politics. Lack of consensus. Always rubbish your adversaries at every opportunity. Lack of conciliation, understanding and empathy. Lack of responsiveness and respect. And a surfeit of arrogance and ignorance, a terrible combination. The last one I got from one of your old research papers.
Martyn: So, Afi, what have you been getting up to these days?
Afilonius: I’m working on several exciting projects right now. Even though the term project is now a dirty word for the Agilists. But less of that.
One of the exciting projects in the pipeline addresses what I call No Limits Data and Analytics. It’s an evolutionary approach for continually orqanising, architecting, managing, leveraging and pushing the bounds of data and analytics, whilst recognising that No Limits (as for Very Large Data Bases) is subjective and will change over time.
Martyn: So, what types of data and analytics will this approach address.
Afilonius: Basically, the whole enchilada. From strategic to speculative. From real-time to batch. From highly aggregated to fine grain. But also encompassing dimensions of data that most other approaches miss, avoid or misrepresent. There will also be full descriptions of the architectural aspects, process flows and coverage of the supporting technology landscape. We shall also address governance, analysis, development, test, deployment and support aspects.
Martyn: Sounds interesting. Any timelines for that?
Afilonius: We hope to publish our call-to-action during the 4th quarter of 2022. It will take a lot of effort to reach that target, but we are all hopeful.
Martyn: Any other things we should clue in to?
Afilonius: We are working on an advanced data and analytics robot, like an Alexa designed for senior executives. Rather than using cumbersome and comprehensive dashboards, they will be able to ask questions such as “Carmena, how much did we sell today so far?”, “Carmena, how are this months sales in Spain?” and “Carmena, how are our site sustainability stats doing?”
Martyn: That sounds very interesting. And, before we close-off, are there any tech vendors and other tech trends that we should be aware of going into 2022?
Afilonius: There is a stack of exciting companies doing fascinating things. I could mention Denodo with their data virtualisation offering off the top of my head. Then there is ThoughtSpot for quick and not-so-dirty database connectivity, reporting, analytics and visualisation. Promethium out of Menlo Park has a fascinating all-in-one data fabric approach. Also, Yellowbrick Data have a lightning-fast hardware stack that deserves some attention. Apart from that, we have other things to consider: Snowflake, Data Vault 2.0, Teradata, Oracle, Exasol, Microsoft, AWS, Promethium, and a whole raft of other things. You know, technology is not the reason we don’t do the right things, right. We have a surfeit of it.
Martyn: We’ve almost run out of time. Any last words, of a personal nature, on the cusp of 2022?
Afilonius: Sure. I have a load of them. Never trust somebody else’s data. Throw out your old frying pan, and don’t replace it. Use quality olive oil in place of mayo. Eat plenty of fruit, especially the vitamin-rich varieties. And, never run for a bus or a tram; there will always be another one along sooner or later.
Martyn: Thank you, Afilonius, and many thanks to the audience for listening. Until next time. This is your host, Martyn Jones, The Big Data Contrarian.
That’s it, folks
And that is really it.
Best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and fruitful 2022.
The Big Data Contrarian