Published: March 29, 2012

Drowning in Big Data?

This week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled 'Drowning in Email, Photos, Files? Hoarding Goes Digital'.   How could I not be intrigued by the fact that this particular article wasn't in the business or technology section, but rather the personal journal section under 'Health & Wellness' right below an article on how horrible a tick season we will be facing!

Big data just went more than mainstream in my book.  Add to that the fact that my 70 year old Dad called to tell me the other day that he heard a story on NPR about the Big Data phenomenon. "Aren't you in this Big Data business?" he asks. I should have checked to see if he read any of my blogs...

Here is the reality. With more options to store data in the cloud (i.e., Carbonite, Dropbox, Box.net, etc.), the accumulating factor gets obscured by being out of sight, out of mind... really removing any 'incentive to delete or prioritize.'  Sure, it is getting cheaper and easier to store anything that comes into our electronic domain - but that doesn't mean storing every bit of unfiltered digital information comes without consequences.  Moving storage to the cloud just makes the problem of digital hoarding less obvious.

Vendors that are blindly pushing the 'Big Data' message are ultimately offering IT departments storage crack to data hoarders - and those that are offering a cloud-based offering without data classification, data tagging, and archiving built in are offering crack - but where you can't physically see it.  Don't get me wrong, if an organization needs large volumes of data to conduct analytics or support a project where massive data throughput is required, these scale-out NAS and Hadoop-based platforms are probably just what the doctor ordered.  There is a business case to justify the investment.

But if the vendor message is, 'here - let me make it easier and cheaper for you to store all of your digital assets until you decide why you need to keep it in the first place,' I'm giving you my Steven Colbert Report 'Wag of the Finger.'  Those vendors would do their customers and prospects a favor by asking them why they need the data; helping them classify the information up front and incorporate data retention and destruction policies; and recommending a solution that helps them filter out what is really needed. Rather than feeding an already out of control obsession our culture has with hoarding data.

Big data marketing hype promises value and insight from information stored in droves.  I do believe there is absolute truth in that statement when organizations know what their corporate goals are, are educated on how to ask questions of their data to find the answers they are looking for to support those goals, and are responsible in how they capture, store, and then delete data such that there is a measurable ROI.  On the flip side are those organizations full of digital hoarders without a plan, rhyme, or reason for why they store as much as they do that will most likely see the scale tip towards the I (Investment) in their data and not so much in the R (Return).

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