Feb 7 2012   7:41PM GMT

Big data is dead (maybe)! Long live analytics apps!

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Is big data dead already? I guess that depends on how you define it. If you’re analyst Mark McDonald, a VP and fellow at Gartner Inc., and you equate big data with the kind of business intelligence (BI) technology that functions as an enterprise-wide system, then the answer is — maybe. We were talking by phone this morning about the challenges facing CIOs in developing a BI strategy.

“If you think of big data as a belief that there is going to be a single giant data warehouse just as there is a single instance of ERP, and that this is going to be the source of intelligence and the driver of business decisions, then that attitude is on the wane,” McDonald said. “What we found in this year’s surveys is a shift to a much more operational or tactical application of analytics apps.”

“I’m not quite ready to say big data is dead,” he added. “But the interest we’re seeing is in disaggregated BI, as opposed to a unified, over-mined version of the truth.”

Cost is one of the reasons big data is disaggregating, McDonald said. Like the economics of ERP, the economics of big data BI — where the data is unified and clean –is prohibitive, especially as data increases.

The way his clients describe analytics is in combination with other business functions: analytics apps and social media, analytics apps and supply chain, analytics and mobile, for example. That’s in distinction, McDonald said, to the traditional view of analytics as a “corporate shared services capability.”

In this worldview of BI, the job of CIOs is to think about analytics apps just as they would about other applications, with an emphasis on providing practical business value. “A CIO who can demonstrate the use of data in formulating business cases, in sizing up business opportunities and in making fact-based decisions is providing business value,” McDonald said.

Sounds good, but that’s kind of the problem. I’m left wondering — as with so much in IT — whether the shift away from traditional “big data” BI to analytics apps for specific business functions is more semantics than “qualitative change.” And I can’t wait to hear the hue and cry from big data experts about how big data cannot by any definition be equated with traditional BI — not to mention emails from all those big-name BI vendors selling something called big data analytics.

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