Data, analytics and Leadership : Big Data World Congress - the Leadership role

Recently, I was at the Big Data World Congress, held in Munich.

There were speakers on a  wide variety of subjects – from the technical to the political, and from practical case studies to the training needed for Data Scientists. Legal implications were discussed, as was the need for global standards defining the terms and architectures used.

Now, I don’t expect all leaders to have the passion I have for the subject. But Big Data is not a subject that enterprises of any size can ignore.

I think that often the term “Big Data” gets in the way as we strive for some kind of perfect definition. Maybe we should just think of it as the need to use data (of all kinds and complexity) to improve your company’s decision taking.

Also, some people are talking “Smart Data” as a better way of thinking about the issues. But, given that few companies really use the data they already have, and even fewer turn this into actionable insight – I prefer the term “Smart Insight“.

Whilst so much attention is being paid to the technical challenges of handling Big Data, not enough attention is put on helping ensure people understand what to do with the insight (at all levels of the enterprise) and then act upon it.

Put another way, the rate-limiting step of the use of Big Data is not technology – it’s strategic thinking (what are we trying to do, and how will data help?) and leadership (how can we change the organization to embrace this?

I collected a few quotes from the conference that I thought were particularly “pithy”. Some are not literally what was said (apologies to the speakers), but all are accurate to the intent.

Holger Kisker, Forrester

  • “Fortune 500 Companies only use 12% of the data that they currently have”.

Jean-Peter Fendrich, Volvo

  • “Big Data allows us to create a single view of each truck over its lifetime”.

J-P Schmetz, Hubert Burda Media 

  • “You may not be embarrassed if Google published your mobile phone number, but you will be embarrassed if they published some of your search queries”.
  • “E-commerce is not retail – you only care that your customer is happy, whilst retail is about efficient distribution”.

Sean Owen, Director, Data Science, Cloudera 

  • “Why aren’t your Big Data dreams happening? We have the data. We know how to model it. We are just not good enough at getting insight out of it and then properly deploying it”.
  • “Is there an alternative to Hadoop? No. Hadoop is replacing itself as we speak and it’s open source so it will keep fresh”.
  • “We will always need human oversight of machine generated insight”.

Marcel Blattner, Head of Research, Laboratory for Web Science

  • “How to hire a Data Scientist? Test him or her with 1) real business data, 2) a Kaggle competition or 3) artificially generate (challenging!) data.”

Steffen Krause, Technical Evangelist, Amazon Web Services

  • “Unstructured data is just data that’s not structured yet …”

Nadja Hirsch, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

  • “We need to explain Big Data and Internet of Things in an easy way to get people to accept them”.

Jens Bussmann, Sales Manager Cloud Plattform DACH & CEE, Google Enterprise

  • “We are moving from “mobile first” to “mobile only” – Google makes no distinction between mobile and non-mobile”.

Wouter de Bie, Data Infrastructure, Spotify

  • “Get fast iteration via think it, build It, ship It … then tweak it”.
  • “When the sign-up button says ‘listen to music’, we get 3x more customers than when it says ‘download’”.
  • “You are the expert, but be prepared for the truth from the data – so have processes to fail fast”.

Giancarlo Avolio, Business Analyst, Intersec

  • “The only way to understand the customer is via Big Data – using structured and unstructured data”.

Justin Coffey, Criteo

  • “The number of Hadoop nodes needs to grow in direct proportion to your business”.

Apologies to other speakers I haven’t quoted here, in the interests of space.

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