May 16, 2014

Do I need Big Data? RJMetrics Explains

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As a big data wizard, and the CEO of RJMetrics, Robert Moore (Bob to his friends) has a thorough understanding of how the big data industry developed, and what the industry is going to look like moving forward. It’s evolution is due in large part to the cost of storage plummeting, he explains. Twenty years ago, storing just one gigabyte of data cost hundreds of dollars, if not more. The same amount of data can now be stored for pennies.

Cheaper storage costs make collecting greater amounts of data financially feasible. Now we’ve reached a point where information is being collected and stored constantly. When you make a phone call there’s metadata: who called whom, when, from where, and for how long.

When you chat online there’s metadata: what was sent, when it was sent, and who sent it. When you shop online, it’s there: what you bought, how you got there, where you went afterwards. We are able to collect, store, and move big data with very little consequence. As Moore puts it, “we’re drowning in data.”

And were not just creating data through interacting with the Internet. He points out that the majority of our universe is still brick and mortar buildings; the real world is generating data faster than we do online. Surveillance video, which was once a tape wiped clean at the end of the day, is now constantly running and uploaded. The challenge for the next generation is to not just capture all this information, but to use it in a way that can facilitate change, and positively impact our behavior. For Moore, this is the exciting part. But first, you have to understand how much there is. Even after the explanation, good luck trying to wrap your mind around it.

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, oversaw a project that cataloged all available data from the dawn of civilization to 2003.

That amount totaled five exabytes. One exabyte represents one-fifth of all data produced from the dawn of civilization to the year 2003. It’s a unit of measure beyond comprehension.

We currently produce five exabytes of data every two days. In 48 hours, we produce the same amount of information the totality of civilization produced from it’s inception to the year 2013. It used to be that only large companies, the Fortune 2000s, had the ability to put these impossible amounts of information to work.

With decreasing costs and the democratization of data storage however, big data can now be used by the Fortune 5 Million, as Moore puts it. Moore’s company was founded with the mission of the inspiring and empowering data-driven people, which, he points out, is an important distinction from data-driven companies. Small and medium size companies have needs that can be met by harnessing and making use of the information they collect. RJMetrics provides them with an application that aggregates all their data from their various sources and puts it in one place, “a single source of truth.” This allows business owners to analyze their information and make better-informed decisions.

RJMetrics’ design and interface has largely been influenced by what Moore refers to as the consumerization of enterprise software. The line between what you do on your computer at home and at work is graying. Consumer products such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Mint.com offer sleek, seamless user experiences. It’s crucial to their success. Increasingly, enterprise software is expected to have the same high-quality interface and design, says Moore. In the 90’s, the enterprise software user experience was barbaric. For a long time, it maintained the stereotype of being clunky, ugly, and slow to respond. After being spoiled by the consumer-facing products, enterprise users no longer find the archaic system designs acceptable.

Right now, according to Moore, there is little sophistication in employing big data. However, companies can do a lot by working with medium-sized data to pull out actionable intelligence. Big data is just that: big. The sheer magnitude of it is almost impossible to wrap your head around, and we’ve got a long way to go if we really want to make it matter. A hip-hop aficionado, he leaves us with a surprisingly apropos Jay-Z quote: “Men lie, woman lie, numbers don’t.” But, before I let Moore hang up, I have one last burning question – a hip-hop one. Impressively, he answers it with pride instead of embarrassment. He did in fact open for Vanilla Ice while in college. He was part of a rap group that could, by his account, “actually rap, not just embarrass themselves.”

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