Big Data: Hype or Here to Stay?

PlentyofFish | BCBusiness
PlentyofFish relies on sample studies, or “small data,” to help its management understand which users could potentially purchase its premium product.

The VEF talks data, analytics and the corporate ascent of the math nerd

It’s no secret that data is a force to be reckoned with. Walmart processes one billion transactions a day. WestJet produces 10 terabytes of information on a single flight. Dating site PlentyofFish traffics thousands of messages a minute. But what value does big data offer to businesses? And where does hype end and utility begin?
Big data, analytics and the role of the chief information officer were up for discussion at the Vancouver Enterprise Forum’s CIOs and Big Data panel at Vancity Theatre Tuesday night.
Moderated by Jacob Kuijpers, senior manager for information management at Deloitte, the panel included Cameron Uganec, HootSuite’s director of marketing; Stephen Ufford, founder of Trulioo; Bruno Aziza, vice-president of worldwide marketing at SiSense; and Tommy Levi, senior data scientists at dating site

How are companies leveraging big data analytics? In an era of ever more affordable data storage, how much information do companies need to collect and store, and how much should they throw away?

The panel sought to answer those questions and others, while scalping the value it offers to businesses large and small from the “age of big data” buzz.

“We’re at the peak of the hype curve,” said HootSuite’s Uganec, comparing big data’s spotlight with the e-commerce craze of the late 1990s.  

“Social data is becoming more difficult to collect,” said Ufford, who pointed to the growing awareness amongst social media users of the trade-offs that comie with posting increased amounts of personal data online.

But the panel agreed that data, if used correctly, provides tremendous value to companies, as a field like business intelligence did in the ’90s.

HootSuite uses visualizations internally to help immediately understand and respond to brand sentiment amongst users, explained Uganec. Visualizations can tell stories that everyone, not just analysts, can understand.

Highly compensated analysts and data science experts can create value if you know what to expect of them. “Form a hypothesis, test it. That’s where it’s a science,” said Levi.

Uganec also pointed to simple tools, some free, that can help businesses leverage their data, no matter how little of it they may have. Topsy, or even searching hashtags on Twitter, can be useful tools for contextualizing and synthesizing social data, said Uganec.

“Forget big data. It’s not magic,” said Levi, “start with your questions, then go to the data.”