There was one set of conclusions that came out of last week’s Big Data Summit, such as big data is big (but often thin), that eBay doesn’t need any data from telcos, it has enough to be going on with and that trust and privacy issues are probably the Achilles heel of using big data to everyone’s advantage.
There were another set of conclusions around the two things that always ruin the best-laid plans – people and politics. One speaker said that there is no way that you can possibly build a business case for big data projects, you simply have to get on with it. At this point, you have probably said ‘but’ a couple of times. But, here’s the thing: with big data you have to start small.
Several speakers sang the praises of guerilla IT operations where like minded people across large organisations just get on and get things done. CenturyLink provided a classic example – such a group in diverse organisations in the company found they were using the same software and began to compare notes and see what they could find of value in the data they managed using the software. What they found resulted in efficiencies, cost savings and a better view of a certain range of customers. So they showed their bosses and their bosses were impressed and their bosses showed their bosses and they were impressed and the guerillas were given a budget to see what else they could do.
And that is how it works, except once you start you never stop. As Wim Casteur of Belgacom said, “big data is a journey” not a project. Tom Fastner of eBay agreed that getting to grips with big data is something you stick with once committed, in the same way that “you can’t be half pregnant.” Once you start and you are faced with “the accidental architecture” that evolved over the years, you need to keep going. And you do it incrementally. You bootstrap small analytics projects and when you get results you boast about it internally and slowly you get more attention, more budget and more people wanting to join your shadow army.
When it comes to analytics the best advice is to find curious people to help (like finding lazy people to improve and shorten processes). And the best and truest quote of conference was that “desire comes from the top down, belief goes from the bottom up.”
I do not often say this, but it was a great conference.