Friday, August 24, 2012

The Next Data Rock Star

I miss the 1980s, there was lots to like about that time: great music, a lifestyle less cluttered by technology, crazy hair, the fact that I could still grow enough hair to have crazy hair. For most of my adulthood if you had asked me which time in my life I'd like to go back to I'd have picked the 1980s. But now I'm not so sure, I'm starting to pine for the late 1990s through to the mid 2000s. Why? Because, that was a time when quite a few data folks working in the business intelligence arena were the rock stars of IT.

I'm lucky enough to have worked on my fair share of interesting and high profile data warehousing and BI gigs during that period. The problems I had the privilege of working on were often difficult, few (if any) commodity solutions or services had manifested, and the solutions we provided were often anything but cheap. However in solving those problems we added real value to the business, at times doing things that their traditional IT staff or software vendors had said couldn't be done or had tried (and failed) to solve with more application centric approaches. Perhaps most importantly during that period few BI projects were undertaken unless the business could really see the benefit. Maybe this was because of the high cost, maybe not. Whatever the reason, those of us lucky enough to be leading the charge and playing key roles in these projects often got the accolades of not just our IT and data colleagues but also  of key business stakeholders as well. I was fortunate to parlay this into a successful consulting career  with word of mouth securing a series of back to back BI engagements stretching for over a decade.

But I fear that the BI Rock Star is a thing of the past. It's becoming a crowded field. Any number of people now "do BI" and what was once bordering on black magic is commodity thanks to advances in (BI) software products and hardware processing power. Even worse, the phrase "reporting" is commonly be used almost interchangeably with "business intelligence". We've all too often moved away using BI undertakings to support complex decisions and solve wicked problems to one where often all too many reports are produced for banal reasons or reasons unknown. It's no wonder then that business stakeholders seem to be seeing less value from their business intelligence dollar.

So, if BI is indeed on the wane, I wonder where the next Data Rock Star will come from. If I was to encourage my kids into the field where would I point them? Will the Data Scientists be the next wave to be lauded by the business, or will those jumping on the Big Data bandwagon get that privilege? Maybe those playing in the NoSQL space are about to be thrust to glory, or perhaps the social media tsunami will mean that's it the intersection of all three which will be the sweet spot. I actually think it won't be any of these. Both Big Data and Data Scientists to me still feel like buzz words - hot topics - that the industry has thrown up and bandied about to the point where airline magazine syndrome has kicked in. I don't see the clear path to the wide stream killer need that means business stakeholders will clamour for solutions in these areas enmasse any time soon.

So, if you can see more clearly than I, I'd love to know what the next big data thing will be. I miss being a rock star!

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