Big data 'a big gamble and mostly a waste of money'

By Brendan Coyne | 29 August 2013

In big data, first mover advantage is nothing. We are now at the equivalent big data stage as when Facebook and MySpace were neck and neck. So if anyone comes to sell you the benefits of big data first mover advantage "show them back out again. Do not take that gamble."

That's the view of Ray Poynter, director of insights unit, Vision Critical University.

"The amount of noise is growing faster than the signal. So [big data tools] can help find patterns but they are meaningless," he told AdNews. "We have had seismic sensors all over the world for decades but we have not improved our ability to detect earthquakes."

He said the current state of the market was akin to the CRM boom of the '90s. With big data "few will get it right and others will fill up warehouses with data and become swamped."

Even when meaningful information can be extracted, the problem is that the market also learns that lesson, "so what you have learned ceases to be true.... it's a feedback loop. You cannot beat the market."

He said the best use of big data was to use it to quantify something: "Use market research to find where to dig and big data to do the digging."

Poynter said that some of the established providers of big data "may well soon be undercut" by competition from emerging markets and by "anyone who is in the panel or customer lists business." Under that scenario he said buyers should beware picking big data winners because now is "just the wrong time to make those bets."

"Be agnostic about as many things as you can because things will change and to what extent is not clear. Do not enter into five year contracts. [In tracking data] do you use HTML5 or download the app? Do not make that gamble. You want someone else to do it."

Google, he points out, was the third mover. Samsung was not the first mover "and is blowing Apple away all over the world on second mover advantage." Behind Samsung, he said, "there are hundreds of others."

Likewise the postal service. Everybody thought it was doomed and then along came Amazon.

"There is a tendency to think that progress goes in one direction, that it is linear. It isn't. Big data will solve some problems, but it's mostly a waste of money."

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