Big data? Get real

Time was you could barely open a web page without being bombarded by messages extolling the virtues of big data. That got tired very quickly, so the industry moved on to fast data, or smart data. The same sort of shift is happening around machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, which is rapidly losing out to the now ubiquitous “Internet of Things”, despite there being little obvious difference between the two.

If there’s a common theme to these shifts, it’s not that companies are ditching one technology trend in favour of another. It’s the same discussion, just with different terms.

At Gloo, we often mull over the consequences of these shifts in jargon. For example, there’s a day coming soon when we’ll no longer talk of cloud computing, just like we no longer talk of client-server computing. That day is when the bold new trend becomes the way things are done. Cloud computing will become just ‘computing’. Smartphones will be just ‘phones’. All electricity meters will be smart. And all authentication will be multi-factor.

For some marketers, these shifts in technical terms leads to a buzzword arms race; a scramble to coin phrases they can own. Of course, there’s enormous value in creating snappy ways that help customers envisage what a product does or a concept delivers. But it’s a perilous process.

We always advise clients to use buzzwords with caution. Carelessly used, they hinder readers’ understanding, or simply confuse. Jargon we might take for granted can be opaque to others. For instance, the Daily Mail felt compelled, when reporting the infamous iCloud hack of celebrities’ accounts, to explain to its readers the files weren’t being stored in an actual cloud.

Even when terms are successfully coined, there’s a risk that too much energy is wasted on definitions and theorising — and arguing about which technologies belong in a particular segment. If there’s a quicker way to lose an audience than semantic posturing, I’ve yet to come across it.

But just because a phrase has been overused, it doesn’t mean there’s not a story to tell about the technology. Over the years, there’s one thing I’ve noticed that customers never tire of: seeing evidence of what technology can deliver. For big data, cloud or M2M, where the applications are so diverse and often industry specific, focusing on use cases is an essential part of explaining the technology’s worth.

Indeed, rather than hearing about big data, fast data, or smart data, IT leaders want to learn more about the value of data analysis technologies, they need proof points that this stuff really works. They want to see facts and figures, return on investment calculations. In short, they want more information about the power of information. Maybe it’s a subject that could have it’s own buzz phrase. I think I’ll call it data data.

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