The Surprising Truth about Big Data

Big Data gets a lot of headlines. If any technology can be called heavily hyped, Big Data earns the prize for most breathless predictions of enterprise influence.

Typical of the rosy predictions is this from IDC: spending on Big Data-related infrastructure, software and services will grow at a torrid compound annual rate of 23.1 percent between 2014 and 2019, reaching a hefty $48.6 billion in 2019.

For companies, it would seem, boosting revenue as easy as implementing a Big Data solution and hiring an accountant who can track your windfall profits.

However, a research report from Dresner Advisory Services adds a sober note to the Big Data hype. Dresner is helmed by Howard  Dresner, who understands the market: he’s widely known as “the father of business intelligence” (having coined the term). He led Gartner’s business intelligence research practice for 13 years.

Dresner’s research report, from November 2015, includes input from roughly 3,000 organizations, as well as crowdsourcing and vendors’ customer communities. The survey reports that:

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* A mere 17 percent actively use Big Data in their organization today.

* A lukewarm 47 percent “may use” Big Data in the future.

* A remarkably large 36 percent have no plans for Big Data. In essence, fully a third of companies say: Big Data, who cares?

The Dresner survey includes this downbeat note: “despite an extended period of awareness building and hype, actual deployment of big data analytics is not broadly applicable to most organizations at the present time.” (Italics mine.)

And yet the results reveal a conflicted attitude. Despite lackluster adoption, a full 59 percent say Big Data is “critically important.” Huh? That’s contradictory: A majority says it’s critically important, yet a skinny 17 percent actually use it?

Clearly, executive’s attitudes toward Big Data contain big ambiguities.  

Big Data adoption is greatest among large businesses and institutions. Big firms have the deep pockets required to deploy competitive technology early in the game. Given a size of more than 5,000 employees, 36 percent now use Big Data.

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Yet that still begs the question: what about the 19 percent of large companies with no plans to use Big Data? Can they keep up with competitors that are leveraging insights from Big Data?

The Dresner survey acknowledges that it contradicts other studies that tout Big Data adoption. “We recognize that this finding contrasts with other market studies and agree that there are powerful use cases for big data that may not be immediately suitable for supplanting existing resources and technologies such as SQL.”

Other Big Data experts echoed Dresner’s assessment of the market.

Fern Halper, Research Director for Advanced Analytics at TDWI, and a co-author of Big Data for Dummies, said the Dresner report “is probably directionally correct.”

She noted that a TDWI survey that focused on readiness for Big Data found that less than 10 percent of companies felt they could manage petabytes of data. A much higher percent, of course, have experience managing terabytes. Further complicating the issue, many companies are handling structured data, “but we know that most data is disparate data,” she said.

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James Kobielus, IBM’s Big Data evangelist, concurred that Dresner’s numbers are probably in the ballpark. However, the Big Data market is not as stuck in infancy as the survey suggests, he said.

Assessing Big Data market adoption rates, “depends on where you set the threshold,” he said.;

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