Big Data: What’s Next?


Even before Governor Patrick announced the Massachusetts Big Data Initiative in May, the state had already established itself as the big data capital of the world. We have 12,000 people employed in the sector in more than 100 companies. We have big money flowing from venture capital ($350 million in 2011) to fund local startups offering new solutions. We are also already home to storage giant EMC, which lends further credibility to this burgeoning field.

But while this is all good news, there remains a major hurdle: Most enterprises have no idea what to do with all of this data that’s growing exponentially every second. And big data companies cannot sell their products without doing a better job of explaining “so what?”

“So what do I do with this fancy data?” In order to take success to the next level, big data firms need to add a consultative service component to their businesses. They need to hand-hold the retailers, the banks, the telecom giants, showing them how big data can transform almost any aspect of their business, offering efficiencies, better customer response, increased sales or better adaptability to changing market conditions, and make it repeatable. They need to be able to show how to seamlessly integrate a solution. It’s one thing to tell a brand manager how many shoppers walked by their product in a given chain store. It’s another to show them how this information can impact their bottom line, their reputation, or their prospects for getting that customer to buy next time.

This is not to suggest that all big data analytics companies need to have massive consulting divisions. In the early days, some of this expertise will clearly need to be in house, but over time it can be scaled through partnerships with existing providers such as McKinsey or IBM.

This obvious next step is not happening today because these solutions are being brought to market by technology companies. These companies have built a powerful analytics platform upon which many queries can be run and many problems analyzed. These tech providers assume that folks working in industry will intuitively know what to do with the analytics. They don’t. For the same reason these potential insights are so powerful—it has never been possible before.

Once this issue is addressed, I expect to see the sector accelerate, especially in the Boston area, where the talent pool is strong, with graduates from MIT, Harvard, and other top universities capable of taking on truly hard problems. Additionally, industry ties to those institutions open new research opportunities and breakthroughs that spark ideas and fresh approaches to problem solving.

Massachusetts figures to be a leader in big data as long as we continue to have creative minds with smart ideas. The heritage, history, governmental support, and density of talent are all there, as is the growing need for solutions, as 2.5 quintillion (2.5×1018) bytes of data are created every day.

Now, we just have to be better at explaining it, making it relevant, and getting it sold.

Matt Fates is a partner at Ascent Venture Partners and over the last decade has focused on investments in data analytics and cloud business services. Follow @AscentVP

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2 responses to “Big Data: What’s Next?”

  1. Aki Balogh says:

    Matt — excellent post. I agree that analytic tools by themselves aren’t enough.

    Five years ago, I worked as an analytics consultant for companies like PepsiAmericas and AIG.

    For our engagements, we found we needed three types of resources: a data management resource (e.g. data acquisition, ETL, scalable architectures), a statistician (to build models and test for statistical significance) and a business domain expert (to identify real problems that can be solved through analytics).

    Nowadays, these three skillsets combined are being called “data science”.

    To date, Big Data businesses have largely been built by software engineers working on the tools and infrastructure.

    Big Data will grow as more and more business domain experts become aware of what Big Data enables and can translate this to impact in their industry.