Cumulus Partners

22. November 2014 07:32

New O'Reilly Report: When Hardware Meets Software

22. November 2014 07:32 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

The nice folks at O'Reilly (Tim, not Bill) Media have published "When Hardware Meets Software," my incisive, mildly humorous and entirely free white paper about the Internet of Things. It's a good read, and fairly useful in case someone approaches you at a party and starts talking about the IoT ...

Here's the link:

Enjoy! It's free! Cheerio!

28. September 2014 17:17

Plan B: Instant Karma and Lesson Learned

28. September 2014 17:17 by mike barlow | 1 Comments

Yesterday, I sent emails to several friends and asked them to post comments about my Culture of Big Data white paper. What happened next is either a case of instant karma or a life lesson learned. Or both at the same time. At any rate, I began receiving emails from my friends. They had downloaded the paper, written comments and then discovered the comments function wasn't working. My initial response was to blame the publisher. I wrote myself a note to contact them today.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that I should have simply shifted to Plan B. If I had accepted responsibility immediately, instead of "blaming" the publisher, I probably would have come up with a workaround yesterday. Instead, it took me until this morning to realize that I could have simply asked my friends to leave their comments right here, on the good old Cumulus Partners web site.  

So, friends and loyal readers, if you can remember the cool stuff you wrote yesterday, please scroll down and leave your comments here. As the great philosopher Dorothy Gale once remarked, "There's no place like home." Thank you.

10. November 2013 13:23

Writing about big data and its impact on the real world

10. November 2013 13:23 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Way back in October 2012, mere days before Hurricane Sandy filled our basement with five feet of water, the nice editors at O’Reilly Media asked me to write a white paper on the emerging architecture of big data. That paper was followed by two more, one about the emerging culture of big data, and another about the impact of big data on the traditional IT function.

You can download the papers from the O'Reilly website. They're free, and the folks at O'Reilly will appreciate your interest. If for some reason you cannot access the papers directly from O'Reilly, you can click on the images at right and download them. Either way, they're free! 

Despite my attempts to make all three papers seem wildly different, they all share a common theme or subtext, namely that the technology of big data is evolving far more quickly than the people and processes of big data.

In other words, the tools are more advanced than the organizations using them. At least that’s my takeaway. After interviewing dozens of data analysts, industry experts, and senior-level corporate executives, I’m convinced that the technology is advancing faster than the abilities of the people trying to use it.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the technology of big data has evolved more rapidly than the organizational structures required to harness big data and convert it into a steady source of value. C-level executives and boards of directors regard big data as promising, but they weren’t born yesterday, and they need to see the business case before they start writing big checks. “Tactics in search of a strategy” is how one senior executive recently summed up his thoughts on big data.

Many of us sense that big data is destined to become the next big thing, but none of us is quite sure how it will all play out.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that this has all happened before. When airplanes were first pressed into military service, they were used exclusively for reconnaissance. When a team of engineers led by Anthony Fokker developed the synchronized machine gun, airplanes morphed into lethal weapons and a new strategy—aerial warfare—was born.

Most of us know the story of how the folks at Xerox didn’t understand the value of the clunky computer mouse they had invented, and how Steve Jobs took the basic idea and engineered it into a practical tool that helped launch a revolution in personal computing.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from my sources, I have the feeling that we are five or six inventions away from a similar revolution in big data. I’m not really sure what form those inventions will take—or I would quit my day job and invest in the companies making them—but I am certain that multiple disciplines and technologies will be involved.

When it arrives, the big data revolution will transform the modern enterprise, accelerate the growth of markets, and launch a new era of social commerce. The changes—particularly in emerging economies—will be mind-boggling in both scale and scope.

Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and wonder why we didn’t see it coming, but by then we’ll be on to the next big thing, and big data will seem about as interesting as a laptop from the 1990s. Meantime, encourage your kids to learn Python, Ruby, and R.


Editor's note: This post initially appeared in the O'Reilly Strata newsletter

2. June 2013 02:58

Big data vs. big reality

2. June 2013 02:58 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Quentin Hardy's recent post in the Bits blog of the New York Times touched on the gap between representation and reality that is a core element of practically every human enterprise. His post is titled "Why Big Data is Not Truth," and I recommend it for anyone who feels like joining the phony argument over whether "big data" represents reality better than traditional data.

In a nutshell, this "us" vs. "them" approach is like trying to poke a fight between oil painters and water colorists. Neither oil painting nor water colors are "truth;" both are forms of representation. And here's the important part: Representation is exactly that -- a representation or interpretation of someone's perceived reality. Pitting "big data" against traditional data is like asking you if Rembrandt is more "real" than Gainsborough. Both of them are artists and both painted representations of the world they perceived around them.

The problem with false arguments like the one posed by Hardy is that they obscure the value of data -- traditional data and big data -- and the impact of data on our culture. I'm now working my way through "Raw Data" is an Oxymoron, an anthology of short essays about data. I recommend it for anyone who is seriously interested in thinking about the many ways in which data has influenced (and continues influencing) our lives. I especially recommend "facts and FACTS: Abolitionists' Database Innovations" by Ellen Gruber Garvey. As its title suggests, the essay focuses on what proves to be an absolutely fascinating period of U.S. history in which the anti-slavery movement harvested data from real advertisements in Southern newspapers to paint a vivid and believable picture of the routine horrors inflicted by the slave system on real human beings.

That 19th century use of data mining built support for the anti-slavery movement, both in the U.S. and in England. The data played a key role in making the case for abolishing slavery -- even though it required the bloodiest war in U.S. history to make abolition a fact.

Data itself has no quality. It's what you do with it that counts.


9. December 2012 07:39

Reading two cool books on data and decision making ...

9. December 2012 07:39 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Well, I'm not exactly sure that Nick Taleb would agree that his new book, Antifragile, is about data or decision making, but I'm seeing everything these days through those lenses, and Taleb's book certainly fits into the big data analytics worldview -- at least from my perspective. The other book I'm reading is The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't by Nate Silver. Both books are really about fate, fortune and understanding the future. And both were recommended to me by a client, which is a nice side benefit of working with smart people who care about the underlying laws of the universe.