Big Data or Big Disappointment? Experts Debate Hype Versus Reality

A panel of experts agree that big data has fantastic potential, but successes, at least at this point, are often hit or miss.

big data

SAN FRANCISCO—The promise of big data is that IT and C-suite executives will gain profit-driving business insights from the latest analytics tools that sift through gigabytes and terabytes of corporate data.

From customers' buying habits to medical research, companies and institutions have far more data on what people are buying, searching for and chatting about online than at any time in history.

The challenge, as detailed by panelists here Jan. 28 at a Dell-sponsored event, is finding the right set of data that will deliver useful insights.

"Big data is an umbrella term for technology that gets you access to huge sets of data quickly for purposes you couldn't imagine doing before because it wasn't affordable. That's changed," IDC analyst Carl Olofson told eWEEK. "But if you don't know what you're doing, big data has limited value, and I've seen it play out that way in some cases."

That said, Olofson believes big data solutions have proved useful to, for example, retailers. He gives an example of a company that sees a lot of interest in shoes it's selling online, as the pageviews are off the charts, but buyers aren't clicking through to purchase in any great numbers.

"A big data analysis might show there was a lot of interest in a certain color, but it was frequently out of stock," he said. "That's helpful to know. The other great thing is that big data is changing all the time and you have the ability to respond to those changes."

Thanks to cloud computing solutions, Olofson said, you can try big data solutions with slices of data from your organization and see if they provide the kinds of insights you need without investing a lot of money.

Still, many small-to-medium-size businesses (SMBs) haven't invested in big data to date, either because it's too expensive or too much of an investment in their time to investigate and tailor their own business processes to make it worthwhile, according to Matt Baker, executive director of Enterprise Strategy for Dell's Enterprise Solutions group.

He compares the advantage of big data to the value of a video versus a picture. "But in terms of getting into big data, a lot of these SMBs don't even have a picture yet [when it comes to their data]. They're struggling with basic reporting."

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...