This year’s tech wish list, minus the hype

  • Big data, cloud heralded as trends to watch last year; in reality, adoption was still low
  • Hype still precedes technology trends; real-world cases needed to boost adoption

This year’s tech wish list, minus the hypeONE of the things that many people do in January is to try and make predictions for the year ahead. A little more than a year ago, pundits, analysts and industry watchers predicted that among the tech trends expected to dominate 2013 were big data and cloud computing.
 
As I look back on 2013, my sense is that while these two trends were very visible and were making some headway in terms of adoption, the expectations that they were going to make a huge impact didn’t quite pan out the way they were supposed to.
 
Big data – the accumulation of raw data that includes structured and unstructured formats measured in petabytes (one followed by 15 zeros) – was an example of a trend that was supposed to dominate the headlines.

In a sense it did. But perhaps that is all it did.
 
While many spoke of the coming of age of big data, there still exists much confusion over what big data really is.
 
Yes, vendors made it clear that there were all these pieces of data all over the Internet, particularly on social media, but that organisations were not mining them. And even if they were, they didn’t quite know what to do with this data.
 
So why is there so much confusion over big data? IMHO, far too often, hype is the order of the day when a new trend comes to the fore. Granted, vendors and industry people do need to hype some trends up in order for them to be noticed in the first place, but too much of that isn’t good at all.
 
We’ve seen this before when trends like when third-generation (3G) wireless technology came to the fore about a decade ago. Hype was the order of the day, when vendors, service providers and handset makers beat the drum, sounding out how wonderful 3G was expected to be.
 
But it wasn’t the case when it finally did arrive.
 
Similarly, big data has just been too hyped up for its own good, so much so that it is now merely a buzzword that is bandied about at conferences and in marketing collaterals.
 
Which is why it’s refreshing that at least one big data vendor, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), candidly acknowledged that big data isn’t about technology but really about how the data is used by the business to increase top- and bottom-lines, improve productivity or open new markets.
 
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Adrian De Luca, HDS Asia Pacific chief technology officer, said, “Today, there aren’t a lot of management folks that are treating their data as their greatest capital assets. They are amassing data in their businesses but they do not understand its impact. Big data is really a business initiative, not an IT one. There is a change of mindset needed.”.
 
His observation was validated by an independent survey – albeit sponsored by HDS – conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in the third quarter of last year, which saw only a third of the 500 senior executives who responded saying that they are in an advanced stage of big data implementation, with more than half saying they have made little or no progress in their big data efforts.
 
So it’s important to put things into perspective when trying to predict what the next big trends are for the year.
 
For those thinking about big data, a good point to start is to consider whether your data is a strategic asset rather than data for historical reporting, as suggested by HDS.
 
Next would be ensuring that the basics are taken care off, which essentially means having access to the right kind of data via the right kind of tools. Far too much of today’s enterprise data is in silos of information; simply put, one department’s data isn’t accessible by another. Legacy IT systems must be dealt with, and more open access to data must be fostered.
 
Organisations today should also begin to invest in relevant people – data scientists in particular – who with the right skill sets, can begin to strategically approach the data they have and turn it into useful information.
 
The lessons learnt here aren’t new as hype preceding reality is what cloud computing went through a number of years ago. Its adoption, whilst a little more advanced than big data, still faces some impediments.
 
In the early years of cloud computing, there was confusion as to whether private clouds truly came under the cloud computing model.
 
Then, public cloud providers such as Salesforce.com levelled accusations at private cloud implementations, calling them out as “not really cloud computing.”  So did cloud giant Amazon Web Services.
 
But today, that same critic, Salesforce.com’s chief Marc Benioff, has cut a deal with Hewlett-Packard for the latter to host dedicated servers, storage and networking within the former’s data centres.
 
“The reality is, this is a whole new vision of cloud computing,” Benioff was quoted as saying in a November 2013 The New York Times article. “It’s a public, private cloud -- public cloud services but with dedicated hardware. Speed, with control.”
 
Perhaps it can be argued that Benioff’s shot at private cloud implementations in 2010 is part of the usual ongoing mind games that chief executives of large vendors routinely engage in.
 
For me, the significance of Salesforce’s tie-up with HP cannot be understated. The plain fact is that we will probably not be able to live in a binary world, choosing either private or public cloud, as there must be space for both implementations in today’s increasingly complex world.
 
Private clouds are still needed where security and privacy are of paramount concern for organisations, for example, those in the financial services industry (FSI), healthcare and government sectors, and for running core applications and databases.
 
Outside of these core systems, other parts of an organisation’s lines of businesses or departments can take advantage of what public cloud providers have to offer, such as human resources, procurement, and web servers.
 
Still, at the end of the day, the best way to boost trends such as big data and cloud computing would be to have real-life cases of organisations willing to share their success implementations with others.
 
So here’s to hoping that there will be just less hype and more action in the technology arena, and that more real-life implementations will lead the way in the coming year.
 
Related stories:

As big data grows, so does the confusion it brings: Forrester

Big data benefits recognised in Asia but potential untapped: EIU study

Making sense of big data

‘The cloud is safer than you think’

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