Is there such a thing as “Big Data” blindness? (Part 1 of 2) by Jon Hansen

Posted on September 9, 2013

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With the growing buzz surrounding “BIG DATA” I cannot help but wonder what it all means and whether or not it is the side effect of unbridled data accumulation and over-reliance as opposed to delivering increased decision-making capabilities re volume versus true intelligence.

The authors of the book Big Data raised this question in a recent MIT Tech Review article.  Specifically, Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger wrote;

The dictatorship of data ensnares even the best of them. Google runs everything according to data. That strategy has led to much of its success. But it also trips up the company from time to time. Its cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, long insisted on knowing all job candidates’ SAT scores and their grade point averages when they graduated from college. In their thinking, the first number measured potential and the second measured achievement. Accomplished managers in their 40s were hounded for the scores, to their outright bafflement. The company even continued to demand the numbers long after its internal studies showed no correlation between the scores and job performance.

Google ought to know better, to resist being seduced by data’s false charms. The measure leaves little room for change in a person’s life. It counts book smarts at the expense of knowledge. And it may not reflect the qualifications of people from the humanities, where know-how may be less quantifiable than in science and engineering. Google’s obsession with such data for HR purposes is especially queer considering that the company’s founders are products of Montessori schools, which emphasize learning, not grades. By Google’s standards, neither Bill Gates nor Mark Zuckerberg nor Steve Jobs would have been hired, since they lack college degrees.

In this context is the increasingly obsessive focus on managing terabytes and petabytes leading us down a penny wise and pound foolish blind alley where common sense and expertise are subjugated to an improved information flow?

While I have no doubt that procurement’s continuing evolution to a socialized platform including the advent of the mobile supply chain represents an important step towards revolutionizing the way we do business, does it mean that we will do a better job?

More importantly, how are we being equipped to handle Doug Laney’s volume, velocity, variety hypothesis relating to data growth, and the amount of information that bombards us on a daily even hourly basis?  In essence are we controlling the data or is the data controlling us and, are we seeing more but knowing less?

In Part 2 of this post I will examine more closely what the Big Data buzz really means to the procurement world.

In the meantime what are your thoughts when you hear the term Big Data?

Thanks to Mason Zimbler's Jon Sander for the above graphic . . .

Thanks to Mason Zimbler’s Jon Sander for the above graphic . . .

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Posted in: Commentary