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March 6, 2013

Vogels: Hate the Name, Not the Tech

Isaac Lopez

Werner Vogels is grumpy that the world decided to use the term “big data,” instead of something more palatable to his disposition, like “data Intensive” or “data centric,” he said at the Technology Frontiers 2013 Conference this week in London.  But that didn’t stop him from giving his own definition and sharing why he thinks it’s important for enterprises to get involved with.

“For me, big data is the collection and analysis of large amounts of data to create a competitive advantage,” said Vogels explaining why people should believe the hype.  “This is what it’s really about: what are my customers doing, who are my customers, and how are they using my products?”

Despite not being thrilled with the term “big data,” Vogels explained that it’s a cornerstone for fixing what he believes has been going completely wrong for large enterprises.  “Product cycles are still running around in years, while most new, young businesses – especially those based on the internet – are able to deliver products in [a few] months’ time. The cycles are very different.”

Vogels argued that large enterprises need to start acting more like lean startups.  Enterprises are being confronted with the same level of uncertainty as a startup, said Vogels, and need to adjust their business practices to match the environment.

“Business needs to become more experimental and measure relentlessly,” expounded Vogels, noting that there is great deal of uncertainty whether or not a company’s products are going to be successful.  There is an abundance of choice and a steady decrease in brand loyalty in consumers.  Vogels says that adding that with the fact that there is limited capital in the market, companies can no longer afford two or three year cycles to bring products into the market.

“You bring a product in the market really quickly in the hands of your customer, then you go to measure how they are using it,” said Vogels, noting how they approach new services at Amazon. “We bring a service, rock solid, into the hands of our customers, but with a minimum feature set, and then very quickly we work together with our customers to drive the product in the direction that they want it to go.”

Big data can help, said Vogels explaining that big data gives businesses the opportunity to measure how their customers are interacting and using their products, and then quickly iterate by improving the service, or pivoting away from it. 

Businesses shouldn’t be skittish on collecting as much data as possible, said the chief, expanding his definition of big data.  “Most of this is really [about] collecting more and more data – and it will actually give you a finer grained result in terms of the analysis that you can do – which means that I have to give you a different definition of ‘big data.’  It’s not just about analytics; it’s actually a complete pipeline.  It’s about how do you ingest data, how do you store it, how do you organize it, how do you insure quality, how do you analyze it, and how do you share it?”

Each step along the way requires innovation, and companies should do everything they can to reduce the costs of experimenting, said Vogels.  The cloud chief says that he believes the cloud is where a lot of enterprises will find that innovation.

“Cloud computing drives most of the big data innovations that we are seeing happening at this moment,” pitched Vogels.  “Unlimited measurements and reducing the costs of experimentation are both driven by cloud computing.”

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