’Big Data changes EVERYTHING’ vs ’Hadoop? For my 200-customer biz?’

By Dale Vile

As an industry analyst, it sometimes feels like I am flitting between two parallel universes. In one, I sit in rooms with IT marketing professionals and product managers and listen to them talking about how the latest “big thing” is changing everything. In the other, I chat with IT directors and ops managers who want to see small changes that make their businesses more efficient or profitable.

In the marketing universe, the statements made are always in the present tense, there’s always talk about huge sweeping disruption, and usually this revolves around one of the many currently hot buzzwords or phrases.

Examples include:

“Cloud is transforming IT delivery”

“Big Data is enabling whole new ways of doing business”

“The social enterprise is redefining the way we work”

And so on….

Then I move to the other universe and find myself sitting around tables with groups of IT directors, operations managers, architects and others involved in implementing or running IT in a mainstream business environment.

When the conversation turns to one the latest “big things” in this context, the language used is generally in the future and conditional, and I hear way more questions than definitive statements.

At the moment, for example, the cloud discussion is typically about which types of services are best to look at first, or how to manage things like security, integration, service level management, etc. as you plan to scale up from initial piecemeal activity.

With Big Data, we are mostly still at the “What the hell are IT vendors going on about?” stage, and people generally look blank when the “social enterprise” topic is raised.

Of course there is a element of time shifting going on in all this. I am old enough to remember when relational databases were the next big thing, when the marketeers were talking about the internet changing everything, and when debates raged about whether object orientation really had a place in mainstream development.

These are all developments that actually did have a big impact on the way we do things in IT today, and they are all now pretty much part of the furniture.

Marketing vs IT people: The great divide

I can’t help wondering though, when I hear marketing people and IT professionals talking about IT requirements in such totally different ways, whether all the hype, spinning and time-shifting actually gets in the way of sellers being able to sell, and customers recognising that some developments represent genuine opportunities to do things better.

A simple example I am coming across quite frequently at the moment is to do with Windows Server 2012. If you have a Microsoft infrastructure in place, there is a lot in this latest release that simplifies various aspects of routine operations and management, particularly if you have a virtual server environment.

Yet by promoting the product heavily around cloud computing, Microsoft has often failed to connect with even the loyal base of Windows administrators who should be looking at the solution to help with more mundane, though still high priority, everyday challenges. They see all the rhetoric around private cloud, hybrid cloud, etc. and conclude the product is not for them. At least for the moment.

Baby steps

Perhaps it’s because I am not trying to push a product, but I personally find that IT and business professionals respond better to the concept of incremental improvements and extensions than huge transformations, on the basis that investments typically build on what you have in place already.

Talking about enhancing your email and collaboration environment with some Facebook and Twitter-like functionality, for example, is generally more meaningful than the notion of “creating a social enterprise”.

Similarly, the idea of developing mobile apps that work consistently with your website across different devices is far easier to get your head around than how to transform your business through the latest developments in “customer experience management”.

One of the most fascinating gatherings I attended recently involved a big IT vendor setting up a roundtable with some of its key partners and a group of us industry analysts to discuss the Big Data opportunity. The event started out with the usual “Big Data changes everything” pitch from the vendor, then the floor was turned over to the partners to talk about how the vendor’s solutions were being deployed to customers.

During the course of the proceedings it dawned on us that the partners were not actually using the term “Big Data”, nor indeed were they talking about anything other than what we might call traditional business intelligence.

When we quizzed them on this, following some initial evasive, political responses and furtive glances to the vendor host, the partners ultimately ’fessed up to the Big Data discussion being largely irrelevant to their customers and prospects at the moment.

One partner said that Big Data was occasionally a conversation-starter, but it was clear that most business requirements coming up could be solved with more familiar analytics technologies and techniques, and that Hadoop and other Big Data solutions were overkill for the vast majority of engagements.



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Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.