Why the era of big data is just beginning

With all the talk of big data in high places — the World Economic Forum in Davos for example — cynics think the whole notion has jumped the shark. Get ready, they say, for the next tech bubble to burst. 

Jeremy Burton is not among them. Of course, Burton is EVP and CMO for EMC Corp., (s emc) which is attacking big data with its Greenplum-Hadoop play, so he has a dog in this fight. Still, what he says makes sense.

He acknowledges the value of big data — huge amounts of structured and unstructured  information from myriad sources which eats traditional database and analytics technologies alive — has been hyped to the max. It will not solve world hunger, Burton admitted in an interview on Thursday. But it will do other, very useful things. Things people will pay for.

He downplayed the notion that mixing Facebook consumer data with traditional in-house data will lead to billions of dollars in business, although insurance companies could use Facebook user datapoints to better assess risk. But more interesting, at least to an enterprise IT company like EMC, is taking ream upon ream of machine-generated data and getting value out of it.

“There is data on Wall Street that every bank crunches every day. Now, there are companies out there who might say ‘why don’t we crunch that once and offer it to the others at a minimal fee?” It’s incremental revenue to that company, and a relatively low-cost service that others would buy, freeing their own people up to do other things, Burton said.

For an example even closer to home, Burton said companies like EMC would gladly pay market researchers to crunch their own research data rather than just delivering Excel spreadsheets for EMC’s internal analysts to massage. “We spend forever crunching IDC data. Why doesn’t IDC do that and sell it to us as a service?. We’d buy it and combine it with other data sources,” Burton said.

“For a company like IDC, where data is their business and they have a brand, if we could  pipe that feed into our systems, it’s less work for our analysts. I don’t want them to spend their time crunching IDC data, I want them looking ahead and at the white space,” he said.

It is true that big data has been overhyped, people will realize there are gaps to be filled — but IT vendors will fill them, he said.

Another data point is the spike in demand for “data scientists,” professionals that combine background in math, statistics, along with a good dose of art. The art part is key because as important as the data itself is, the ability to visualize it is equally critical. “For the last decade, we could be accused of producing data that no one looks at because it was not presented right,” he added.

“People are asking what big data is and as long as they’re asking, it’s not going away any time soon,” Burton said.

In short, we’re at the early stage of the hype cycle. In Burton’s view at least, people will have to wait awhile for this bubble to burst.