Big Data is one of the hottest buzzwords today, and for good reason. The CEO of IBM has boldly stated that big data is a natural resource of the 21st century and it is equivalent to what steam power and electricity were respectively for the 18th and 19th centuries. Taking into account the amount of data we have generated in the last two years is more or less equivalent to what humans have generated since the beginning of recorded history, you may want to concur with her.

The amount of data generated by people has become a flood seemingly overnight as a result of computers, but industry experts say the coming deluge will thoroughly overwhelm the past, in significant part as a result of the rapid increase of mechanical sensors.  The next time you’re downtown, stop and look around you: people, stores, banks, transit, restaurants, stoplights — all of them constantly producing and utilizing data. Now think back to the people, all of them with their own destinations, motivations, responsibilities, needs and schedules — more data.

As CEOs we are starting to wonder if big data is for real and if it can deliver a significant competitive edge to our businesses.

We need to realize that the label big data is, by and large, an ambiguous marketing term used to describe any product that interacts with data in any way at all. Today it is critical to belong within the big data club; hence if a company can reasonably claim that its product is a member, it will do so. One company’s interpretation of big data may have no relationship to another company’s interpretation.

Many big data products are conventional business intelligence, visualization, or database applications adjusted to work with considerably larger data sets without really transforming their functionality. The theoretical capabilities are not new, despite the claims their marketing division might make.

Thinking of the term “big enough data” helped me to make sense of and derive actual insight into big data. It isn’t the absolute size of data that is important; it is having enough data to get the results you need.

Having said this, as a CEO you need to ask yourself a few questions. We will cover that in Part 2 of this series.