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The evolution of data analytics is approaching an inflection point. Early on, discussions of big data served largely to create awareness about the potential of mining large-scale data. Those discussions evolved over time into how to build solutions that could handle that data and stories of how leading-edge organizations were starting to see successes. However, those successes were largely the domain of the sophisticated early adopters who could justify the investments in emerging technology and skilled data scientists and could tolerate the growing pains and complexity of new big data solutions.
Now, however, we’re finally reaching the point where realization of the possibilities of data analytics finally moves beyond just the early adopters and their data scientists and into the broader market of companies both leading edge and mainstream and users not just in data science but across the business. Reflecting the transition from technology novelty to tangible opportunity, we’re seeing the term “big data” evolve as well—it’s no longer just about there being a lot of data, it’s about how data and analytics can be put to the greatest possible use.
The message from across many different fields is that not only is there a lot of data out there, but insights from that data are needed by a wider range of professionals, at different levels of the organization, and for more and more use cases of varying degrees of complexity. In other words, data use is becoming democratized and easy access to the data no longer a dream but something that is now within reach. Once that access is possible, the actual analysis becomes a more creative process, and dare we say, more fun, and not just for data scientists. In fact, it’s often the case that the more unexpected the use case, the more interesting the analytics and use of analytics can be.
This idea of data being fun and accessible speaks not only to expanding access to data insights beyond just the superhero data scientists, but also to the desire of data scientists themselves to communicate, share and expand their enthusiasm for data-driven analysis to the business “masses”. That is part of a related trend in which the traditional wall between IT and the rest of the company is being broken down as data silos and barriers are eliminated, changing the way that IT and users work together to unlock new productivity, creativity, and collaboration.
How important is this democratization of data and analytics? Across industries from sports to retail to healthcare and government, data has been presented as the ultimate disruptor of the status quo and a key driver for everything from competitive advantage to the curing of major diseases. Leading CEO’s like Under Armour’s Kevin Plank described data as “the new oil.” The implication here is that not only is there a plentiful, seemingly endless supply of the data itself, but that the mechanisms and infrastructure for tapping into and refining these vast reserves for general distribution and use are emerging.
Enabling all this: the cost of data storage and processing has come down, while the availability of tools to make sense of all our data without being an advanced guru has risen. Aneesh Chopra, former (and first) U.S. Chief Technology Officer and others are calling this emerging phenomenon the “Big Fat Data Revolution.”
The idea of data democratization and the disruptive new opportunities it creates has been an important topic in the halls of traditional technology conferences, but as evidence of how we’ve reached an inflection point, it’s now become a topic in less traditional venues as well. This shift in the way data is perceived and used was visible at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference.
The use of data was an underlying theme throughout the conference and while “big data” did not have its own themed track, the message to all was clear – we’re now seeing this democratization of data analytics take place, and the early adopter “cool kids” have shown the way in using it in increasingly innovative ways not only in work, but also in play.
Data and its many uses have captured the imagination of leaders at all levels, including among trend-setters (i.e. those people that get invited to the original TED talks). Not only technology leaders but leading figures in healthcare and traditionally “wired” industries like manufacturing are putting their influence and energy behind driving data-driven decision making to all areas – well beyond its traditional role within the large enterprise and by high-profile organizations such as major league sports teams.
Industry Professionals now present data as the great equalizer, a tool that can help level the playing field for everyone from women in business to budget-strapped local governments. Women are using data-driven decision making to level the professional playing field to power their way into the C-suite, while local governments are using data to better manage their budgeting and operations. During a discussion that most clearly illustrated some implications of this democratization, a panel of city mayors emphasized that local governments ”should take a page from the private sector’s playbook and use data in an experimental way to attempt to make a difference” and to make smarter decisions.
Demonstrating that even data analytics has a lighter side, SAP recently took over the rooftop of the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt to throw a “data-driven party” during which personalized data was used by bartenders to fashion custom cocktails that each of the individual guests were predicted to enjoy.
The Remaining Conundrum: How to Make Aspiration a Reality?
Whether you call it a Data Revolution or a Data Renaissance, the end conclusions are clear – more people will be using a data-driven approach in their daily lives, and data accessibility is no longer a nice-to-have but an essential need.
This future is driving a new imperative: the need for solutions that make it easy (not just a little bit easier) for a broad range of people to leverage data. That imperative is in turn driving a technology renaissance in the underlying systems that store and help organizations manage their data.
Solutions that have traditionally been at the heart of data and analytics—data warehouses, analytics platforms and even big data platforms were not designed to meet this new paradigm of anywhere-anytime-anyone access. This is forcing a new awareness and a reckoning in the industry. New solutions are emerging, solutions designed to deliver the performance, scale, and simplicity that not only enables but also accelerates the democratization of data.
This new inflection point is where the real transformation begins. It’s an exciting time to be part of what happens next.