Big data confusion floors my C-Suite alter-ego

My imaginary self has an ambition. I like to picture that I’m a multinational C-Suite executive with a fancy watch and fancier smile.

My imaginary exec reads avidly the industry press to ensure that he is right across current thinking and opinion around data analytics. He’s planning a pitch to the board to secure the multimillion-dollar investment that he needs for his revolutionary big data programme called “Data-driven to the core!”

Young man painting many white question marks of different size with a brush on black background. Back view. Concept of choice.

The trouble is, whenever he tries to get his story straight, he finds his world turned upside down. For instance, in the space of three days, contradictory articles by leading UK industry commentator Computing have left him more confused than ever. This is what happened.

After reading the issue from 3rd of November, Gianmario Spacagna, a Barclay’s data scientist, had convinced him that ‘Companies will stop hiring data scientists when they realise that the majority bring no value’. This was because they spend too much time “playing” with data, wasting the company’s money by “experimenting with data and analytics tools”. Spacagna concluded that an agile manifesto for analytics was needed to combat the inevitable wave of job cuts. Strong messages indeed!  With everything fundamentally broken, it’s surely the wrong time for new big data investment? The gloom descended.

But what’s this? Was there salvation round the corner?

Just three days later he reads Wael Elrifai, Pentaho’s top data guy, saying he should, in fact, be promoting more experimentation with big data analytics. ‘Experiment with big data now’, says Elrifai, ‘and worry about ROI later’. ‘Explore if relationships exist’ and ‘focus on a clear journey rather than worrying too early about the return on investment!’

Hang on! The other guy just told me to stop the experimentation?!

So what to do? My make-believe C-Suite is by now thoroughly confused. Not a good state given that he’s managing the expectations and budget responsibilities of a company seeking to take that precarious first dip into a data lake. With this level of contradiction and uncertainty, is it any wonder that the big data industry is struggling to make a lasting impact on the real-world enterprises of which it claims so often to be the saviour?

Barclays and Pentaho do make valid points amongst the hyperbole. Agile delivery of incremental value and data exploration are indeed both powerful tools, when used correctly.

And this is the real story here.

Analytics needs to think and speak ‘business’ better. We must step back and appreciate that the marketplace for big data is immature and needs really clear messaging to guide, educate and inform the market about the different data science value propositions.

Decision makers are looking to us, the analytics practitioners and data science champions, to inform, de-risk and accelerate their decision-making processes. All too often, we are doing the exact opposite.

In Tessella, we see first-hand the power of embedding business fluent data scientists within client teams. Their domain knowledge and technical skills incrementally deliver significant business value from data via agile exploration and targeted innovation. However, it’s critical to understand that agile technical analytics delivery has to be closely embedded within business value driven multidisciplinary teams. Exploration is powerful, but only when clear about the outcome you are aiming for.

The focus has to be on identifying improved business decisions first, and worrying about the details of the data last. Anything else is just a crapshoot in the dark. And it is this message that will help my imaginary executive to get his big data investment approved today.


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Matt Jones

Matt Jones

Matt has over 16 years' experience of working in Research and Development groups within the ...

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