Human Face of Big Data.jpgThere are plenty of reasons to avoid talking about big data. It makes people anxious, confused and quizzical. Sometimes, two minutes into a conversation, you realize the person you're speaking with doesn't have a clue about big data. Other times, the conversation lapses into such elaborate technobabble that it's impossible for someone without an advanced degree in analytics to follow.

So why are so many people flocking to the O'Reilly Strata + Hadoop World 2013 big data conference in New York City this week?

The reality is that big data is big business -- "a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation and consumer surplus," according to a too-often quoted 2011 McKinsey report. On a practical level, it's the stuff of actionable business insight: better customer experiences, better service, higher sales.

What Customers Want

As David Jonker, senior director of product marketing for SAP AG, noted at a recent Digital Day 3D in Toronto, Ontario, big data is a way for companies to identify "signals of demand" … what customers want.

Try replacing the phrase big data with something that makes more sense in the C-Suite: business value. If you do that, you'll understand just why events like the Strata conference are in such high demand.

Maureen Jennings, media relations manager for O'Reilly Media, said the conference sold out even earlier than in previous years. The conference connects more than 3,000 end users, business leaders, solution providers and open source contributors for three days of tutorials, workshops and discussions about the tools and techniques that make data work.

The "In" Place for Big Data

It's The Place to Be for big data’s most influential decision makers, architects, developers and analysts … both the people who use big data to drive business strategy and the practitioners who collect, analyze and manipulate the data.

Since joining forces last year, Strata + Hadoop World also holds distinction as one of the largest gatherings of the Apache Hadoop community in the world, with a plethora of hands-on and business sessions on the Hadoop ecosystem. will be bringing you team coverage from the event at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, led by our resident big data expert, Virginia Backaitis. Expect news from a host of companies, from Microsoft and EMC to Cloudera, Revolution Analytics and MapR.

Exploding Big Data Myths

So now that we've whetted your appetite, let's explode some popular big data myths.

  • Size is everything: It isn't.While it is true that big data involves high volume, high velocity and/or high variety information assets, the most important thing isn't it's "bigness" but the variety of data sources, according to a 2013 survey of more than fifty large companies by NewVantage Partners.
  • Measure everything: As Maria Ogneva noted in a story recently, just because you can measure something doesn't mean you should. You can find data on just about everything, but when applied without thinking, simply measuring anything and everything that’s available can lead to poor conclusions and disastrous results.
  • Focus on tools and software: While the right tools and software are important, they are only as useful as your business goals. In other words, how you collect or analyze your data is less important than why you are collecting or analyzing it.
  • The more data, the better: The more data you collect, the greater the risk that some of it will fall into the wrong hands. Consider the unintended consequences of sharing data too broadly -- and control access to data, processing procedures and applications.
  • Big data is a single concept: Big data is not a single thing that can be adequately addressed by one solution. You have to consider just what you want to do: quickly expand datasets, parse tweets and network information or analyze voice and video, for example, and then select your solutions accordingly.

The bottom line: Big data is only as good as the actionable insights it generates -- but the potential it offers is significant. Consider this: Survey results show 91 percent of senior corporate marketers believe successful brands use customer data to drive marketing decisions. Given that, there's only one more question. How is your company capitalizing on big data?