Why Big Data Really IS Like Teenage Sex

Oct 19, 2015

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it...”  (Dan Ariely, Duke University)

That’s my favorite quote about big data, and it caused quite a stir when it was first uttered. Bernard Marr, among others, rose to big data’s defense, citing a number of very cool real-life applications of the software.

Well, OK, there are some good apps out there, but big data still really IS like teenage sex, especially when it comes to applications in the technology-heavy area of financial planning & analysis (FP&A). Borrowing from David Letterman, here are my top five reasons why big data is like teenage sex:

  • Reason #5: You may not really have had a “big data” experience, though you may think you did. The definition of big data apps is a little squishy, but it generally includes the requirement for a wide variety of types of data, including text and other unstructured data. These types of structures are relatively rare in FP&A – lots of data is not the same thing as big data.
  • Reason #4: Everyone thinks he/she is the only virgin. Not true. There are some very exciting, widely publicized big data applications, but not that many. At least not yet. And not in finance.
  • Reason #3: Afterwards you may wonder: What was all the fuss about? Businesses may have made bad decisions before big data came along, but they also made a lot of good ones. And some bad decisions will be made even with the help of big data. Big data won’t be a magic bullet every time, especially when you factor in the effort and expense of implement a big data application.
  • Reason #2: You may not be as good at it the first time or two. We’re talking about very complex software, analyzing very complex situations. This will not go smoothly. And while big data will inevitably find strong correlations and interrelationships that wouldn’t otherwise be discovered, they will not necessarily have a causal basis. For example, the voodoo analysis of the stock market that technical analysts have inflicted on the investment community for decades, with big data will become voodoo analysis on steroids.
  • And Reason #1 why big data is like teenage sex: Just having the experience seems more important than finding the right partner. For some, implementing a big data application will be nothing more than some professional rite of passage. Need I say more?

Eventually, the number of problems to be solved in the FP&A world will catch up with the big data tools itching to solve them. In the meanwhile, as our parents told us: Be patient – eventually the right problem will come along. And you’ll know it when you see it.

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable.  I welcome your feedback and your favorite examples.  Follow me on twitter at @RandallBolten.

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