This coming week, the largest big data conference, O’Reilly Strata event, will gather close to 10,000 attendees in one of NYC’s largest conference hall – the Javits Center. I had the pleasure of presenting at the very first editions of this show, almost a decade ago, when the event was then launched by some of my big data friends and idols Mike Olson and Alistair Croll.
Boy, oh boy, how things have changed in the last 10 years … heck, even in the last six months: Hadoop is no longer a cryptic word, companies have data scientists on staff, and the industry has seen companies like Hortonworks go public, organizations like Qliktech get absorbed, and ERP leaders like Workday and Salesforce make significant acquisitions.
If you’re an investor or a buyer in big data technology, you’re going to want to pay attention to what’s happening next. There has been a lot of hype and noise up until now. Things are about to get real.
Data scientists: You say data, I say [deita]
“Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it,” the adage says. So, let’s look at some recent big data history: the abuse of the data scientist. Regardless of how your employees pronounce the word data (pronounced “deita” or “data” or “deiter”), there is no doubt that every company with more than two employees has equal access to the opportunity to turn its data into a competitive advantage.
Problem is, executives have struggled to organize themselves around the data science opportunity. It all started when they were told that the solution was to hire a “data scientist.” Hal Varian started the trend. Tom Davenport and DJ Patil substantiated the theory on HBR, and McKinsey quantified the need. Predictions were clear: Unless we didn’t collectively hired data scientists, the earth’s rotation was going stop.
Bashing data scientists, missing the chief data officer
What ensued became borderline nonsensical: Thousands of people changed their Linkedin profile to match the demand; hundreds of companies hired such individuals and praised their Godsend gifts. But when companies realized that the focus on individual heroism and isolated victories didn’t equal widespread success, the industry started bashing the data scientist. Google the phrase “you don’t need data scientist” and you’ll see what I mean. This is unfortunately what occurs when executives hire what they believe to be unicorns and give them no clear job descriptions, success metrics, or a support system for the job.
The bottom line: What can we learn?
Don’t get caught in semantics: it’s not what you call it, it’s about what you enable. Get organized before you hire. And plan to make the individual as part of a team, not as a lonesome hero. The industry is about to make the same mistake with the Chief Data Officer title. If you’re considering hiring one, consider this checklist.
This changes everything: It’s not even about the data
In a recent interview, Ken Cukier, author of Big Data, said, “Data doesn’t exist, it’s the insights and actions that do.” This is a trend that software giants Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have picked up on. This month, they will each have a subscription-based analytics solution for big data. If you felt that Tableau had taken the space by a storm, wait until these major platform vendors heavily invest. And there will be enough room for all of them to grow.
The private equity market is gearing up for the opportunity too. Thoma Bravo, a firm that acquired Qliktech for $3 billion in June, just raised a $7 billion round. MapR, one of the key Hadoop players, raised another round in August and indicated its intention to go public.
The IPO market appears to be on a rebound, too. While the first three months of this year saw no IPO, making 2016 one of the worst IPO years since the recession, analysts now expect over 40 IPOs to occur before the end of the year. Will Cloudera go public? Nobody knows. However, Renaissance Capital data suggests that not only is the IPO market back but it also offers better returns than the overall market. The Renaissance IPO index is up 30 percent this year, while the S&P has risen 17 percent.
The bottom line: What can we learn?
When visionaries like Cukier say that “data doesn’t exist,” you have to internalize what it means: The debate around big data and its transformative value is over. Big Data is real. It’s here to stay. To win, you have to think beyond the big data trend. You’ll have to internalize the mistakes we’ve made so far. If you are an investor, broaden your public view of the market and look beyond Hortonworks and Tableau. Look at Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and anticipate that Cloudera and MapR might possibly go public in a short order. If they do, and when they do, what do you think this will do to your business?
Bruno Aziza is a big data entrepreneur. He has led marketing at multiple startups and has worked at Microsoft, Apple, and BusinessObjects/SAP. He is currently Chief Marketing Officer at AtScale. You can contact him @email@example.com.
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