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FCW : February 2014
Bookshelf How big a deal is big data? Big data is a big buzzword, touted by industry marketers from Sili- con Valley to the Beltway as the next big thing. But is it more than that? In "Big Data at Work," sched- uled for release on Feb. 25, Thomas Davenport attempts to set the record straight by dispel- ling the myths associated with the sometimes mysterious term and highlighting how big data s tantalizing possibilities turned him from a skeptic into a believer. Davenport s book probes below the surface of the typical big-data dialogue and uncovers information relevant to decision- makers in the federal community. It outlines the technology that innovative companies are using to collect more data or make better use of existing informa- tion and, perhaps as importantly, explores the human aspect of big data. Davenport reminds us that all the IT in the world is of little value without proper management approaches, appropriate organiza- tional cultures and the right set of people to use it. Big data de ned The de nition of big data is still evolving. Some explain it with the help of words such as volume, variety, veracity, value or velocity, but Davenport opts for a simpler approach. "Big data refers to data that is too big to t on a single server, too unstructured to t into a row-and- column database, or too continu- ously owing to t into a static data warehouse," he wrote. Big data s size is tradition- ally seen as its largest challenge. Humans, machines and sensors had produced some 2.8 zettabytes (2.8 trillion gigabytes) of data by the end of 2012, according to one study Davenport cited. But he said big data s primarily unstructured nature is the real hurdle to clear. Of those 2.8 zettabytes, only 0.5 percent is analyzed in any mean- ingful way because most of the data is not in row-and-column formats. Compare that to the 25 percent of all data thought to be of potential value, and it s easy to see why Davenport wrote that "we are only scratching the surface of what is possible." Davenport also makes a distinc- tion between big data and tra- ditional business analytics. The terms are often used synonymous- ly, but he said that is a mistake. Key differences exist in the type, volume and ow of data and in the methods of analysis. A new book by Thomas Davenport shows how leading companies have put their data to work --- and what type of teams and technologies they used to do it BY FRANK KONKEL Davenport warns that decision- makers in the public and private sectors should be wary of over-hyped big-data solutions that do little more than traditional analytics. February 2014 FCW.COM 31
March 15, 2014