Is big data just a fad?

Bernard Marr
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From time to time, you still come across someone with the opinion that Big Data is nothing more than a scam or a fad, which will be forgotten about soon enough.

You might not expect to hear this from me, but they’re actually right. Well – half right, at least!

As I’ve written before, I’m not actually a fan of the term “Big Data”, which puts overemphasis on the importance of size. Anyone who’s been reading my articles for a while will know that I’m firmly of the opinion that what you do with your data, is far more important than how big it is.

And I am sure as more people realize this – as working with extremely large datasets increasingly becomes the norm, rather than something new and exciting – the term “Big Data” may indeed fall out of use.

The fact is, Big Data isn’t something which has appeared overnight. Ever since we invented digital data storage in the 60s, the amount of data we have been dealing with has increased exponentially with time.

Even before that, if you really want to go right back to the beginning, ancient civilizations strove to horde as much knowledge as they could in great libraries.

Our urge and ability to collate and analyze information seems to have always been something which has distinguished us from other animals, and it isn’t going to leave us any time soon.

So the value of information – data – has always been apparent. However during the last half-century we certainly experienced a rapid acceleration in our capacity to both store larger amounts of data and analyze it in smarter ways. First with the encroachment of digital storage and microprocessors into every aspect of society, then with the Internet and smart phones and now, wearables.

No doubt, there is a lot of hype around Big Data. Big names and brands which have emerged onto the market have profited from this, pushing their own ideas of what Big Data means and how you should go about it.

Wherever you find hype, you find hot air. This is particularly true in the tech world where those who get on board first stand to make huge amounts of money. Not everything that emerges in the early days of something as game-changing as the “Big Data revolution” will stand the test of time.

I assume most of my readers are probably old enough to remember the final decade of the last century, when the internet really got popular.

Those of us who had grown up using computers realized immediately how revolutionary it was going to be – that in fact, nothing would ever be the same again. But pundits from outside of the tech world – somewhat wary of the grandiose claims being made – continued for a long time to insist that it was a passing fad.

Many saw the bursting of the dot-com bubble as validation of that belief. But, although a lot of people lost a lot of money, the internet, as we all know, endured.

In the digital age, other terms have risen in popularity only to drop into disuse as the principles they represent become adopted into everyday business use – such as management information systems, or business intelligence. They’re just adopted into everyday business life to the extent that we don’t need specific names for them any more.

So, while in 10 years’ time the terminology might have changed, we will still be talking about data, and analysis, and the juicy insights we get when we mix them together.

So when someone tells you that “Big Data is just a fad”, what they mean is that we won’t need the label any more. Data strategy, collection, storage and analysis are here to stay. As will be the businesses which are savvy enough to use it to strike while the iron is hot.

This article is published in collaboration with Smart Data Collective. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Bernard Marr is a globally regognized big data and analytics expert. He is a best-selling business author, keynote speaker and consultant in strategy, performance management, analytics, KPIs and big data.  

Image: An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer. REUTERS


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