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商业 - 科技

警惕大数据的“哑铃”现象

Andrew Nusca 2014年05月13日

SnapLogic公司的CEO高拉夫•迪隆认为,大数据哑铃的两端,一端是零售、金融等服务业和信息密集型产业,一端是工业互联网,这两端都能从大数据获得巨大的好处,但大数据并不适合其它大量处于中间地带的企业。

    如果真像知名风投家马克•安德里森所说的那样,软件正在吞噬世界,那么大数据就应该是在拯救世界,对吧?

    近两年来,“大数据”这个词已然滥殇于报端。它一般代指用来分析令常规工具望洋兴叹的海量数据的一系列技术。“大数据”的火爆令许多高管不禁踌躇自己的公司是否也要来上这么一套东西。这种现象从很多方面看很像上个世纪60年代——当年仍处于襁褓阶段的计算机虽然异常昂贵,但它所具有的未来主义色彩仍令众多大企业心折不已,遂纷纷把它看成一种有利于竞争的工具。那么现在的企业面对大数据浪潮该何去何从?是该害怕它,还是勇敢地拥抱它?另外,究竟谁才真正需要这个东西?

    为了透过热闹看门道,《财富》杂志将电话打到了高拉夫•迪隆在加州圣马特奥市的办公室。如果你觉得迪隆这个名字很耳熟,那是因为迪隆曾担任过Informatica公司的创始人兼首席执行官。Informatica公司的总部位于加州的红杉市,市值将近40亿美金,主要业务是替大企业管理数据库。

    迪隆于2009年就任数据集成公司SnapLogic的首席执行官。他认为大数据对于大企业来说蕴含着丰富的商机——但仅限于某些行业。他把这种情形称为大数据应用的“哑铃”现象。以下是这次电话专访的文字记录,为清晰起见进行了部分编辑和精简。

    《财富》:去年可能再没有比“大数据”更火的词了,几乎到处都能看到这个词——比如在科技峰会的主题演讲里,在各种简介材料和展板里,在关于各种行业的新闻文章里……大家都觉得自己需要搞大数据。不过,大数据是个非常专门的计算技术的类型,是吧?还是说,它只是个噱头?

    迪隆:我在信息技术行业从业22年,也有一些自己的观点。2002年的时候,我用“信息海啸”一词来描述它。现在我们又有了一个新名词。

    我认为现在需要管理的数据量的确越来越大了。这个行业最初发端于上个世纪,而且是在互联网发明以前,起初是要处理零售业的条形码和UPC代码数据。对这些数据的早期分析孕育了后来的数据存储行业。后来这个行业带动了市场决策、定价决策、零售预测等等方面。

    大数据的火爆趋势还会继续下去,不会突然发生转变。一位科学家曾说过:“科学每一次都提前埋葬了一点过去。”所以我认为我们还能够继续享受利用数据进行决策,以及利用大数据进行更合理的决策所带来的效益。

    我们需要处理的数据的确“变大了”。当然,我家车库里也比十年前装了更多的东西,随着时间的推移,大家的东西都会越来越多。

    但是有意思的是,大数据具有数据科学的元素,我认为这是比较重要的一点。首先它从大数据中撷取出小数据,然后在小数据中寻找信号,来理解我们下一步该做什么——比如谁将赢得大选?气候和语言之间有什么相关性?也就是我们现在能做一些靠上个世纪的运算能力没法处理的事。而且现在Hadoop和其它一些工具已经让大数据走向大众化。所以,现在大数据计算的价格和性能都发生了根本的变化。

    在有些案例中,大数据的效益很明显;在其他一些案例中,大数据的作用被夸大了,它的效益可能不会那么明显。随着许多东西的电子化程度越来越高——比如超市、桥梁、汽车、公路等,大家有了它们的传感器数据,就会获得大量的信息。但更多的数据并不会让人变得更聪明,它只是意味着大家要花更多钱用来储存这些数据。正是这个方面会让有些公司被甩出这个市场——也就是大数据的效益方面。

    在有些领域,比如零售、定价、金融方面,大数据的效益很明显。但在有些行业里,把钱投在大数据或是投在研发和市场上,哪个带来的效益更多,答案并不明显。我不是要告诉你大数据是个万灵丹,而是要告诉你管理这些数据……不同的人获得的效益是不一样的。

    上周新更新的一集美剧《广告狂人》(Mad Men)里,那家名叫Sterling Cooper & Partners的广告公司购买了一台新的IBM 360大型主机放在原来的一间会议室里。剧中的有些角色为了让公司获得竞争优势而想买这台电脑;还有些人支持买这台电脑是因为他们把它看成未来的一种趋势。另外还有一些人担心这台电脑会取代他们的工作。这就是人们看待大数据的一般看法吗?

    对计算机的恐惧不仅仅是他们有。刚毕业的大学生、2000年后毕业的人以及我的孩子(一个13岁、一个6岁)这一代人,他们并不害怕计算机——他们虽然可能不是搞编程的,但他们对科技上手很快,个个都是民间高手。而《美国队长2》(Captain America: The Winter Soldier)里九头蛇密谋颠覆世界的“洞察计划”渲染的全是大数据的阴暗面。实际上如今各大企业想的都是“我们不能落在后面”,所以纷纷在这个领域开展军备竞赛。虽然社会上有人担心大数据会导致“洞察计划”这样的阴谋成为现实,但企业界没有这种担忧。不过在企业界里也存在获取了错误的数据或是没能真正理解数据含义的问题——这和五六十年前的情况如出一辙。在SnapLogic公司,我们现在就正在尝试完成一下一些未完成的业务。为什么到了2014年它还是这么难?

    f software is eating the world, as described by the prominent venture capitalist Marc Andreessen in 2011, then big data is supposed to be saving it. Right?

    Popular use of the term "big data," which is used to describe technologies that help parse datasets too large for conventional tools to handle, has exploded in the last two years -- leaving many business executives wondering if they need it. It is in many ways an echo of the 1960s, when large corporations saw early computers as (expensive, rudimentary, futuristic) competitive tools. To fear, or to embrace? And who, exactly, should need such a thing?

    In an attempt to slash through the hype, Fortune rung up Gaurav Dhillon at his office in San Mateo, Calif. If his name sounds familiar, that's because Dhillon is the founder and former chief executive of Informatica (INFA), the nearly $4 billion Redwood City-based software company known for managing the data warehouses of large companies.

    Dhillon, who became the chief executive of the data integration company SnapLogic in 2009, believes that big data holds big promise for big businesses -- but only in certain industries. He calls it the "big data barbell." Below are his words, edited and condensed for clarity.

    Fortune: Perhaps no term has been more popular in the last year or so than "big data." It's everywhere: in keynotes at technology conferences, in briefing materials and presentation decks, in news articles about various industries. Everybody seems to think they need it -- but big data is a rather specialized type of computing, no? Is big data kind of B.S.?

    Dhillon: Coming up on 22 years in the technology industry, I should have some kind of perspective. Back in 2002, I used the term "the information tsunami." And here we are today.

    I think what is true is that data under management has gotten bigger. Initially, the roots of this industry in the last century, before the web, were in retail and bar code scans and UPC codes, as you call them, to stock shelves. That was the birth of the data warehousing industry: early analytics. That industry drove marketing decisions, pricing decisions, retail forecasting, and so on.

    The trend will continue; it's not suddenly going to change. A scientist said, "Science advances one funeral at a time." So I think the benefit of being able to use data to make decisions, and make bigger data to make more possible decisions, will continue.

    The fact that data is "bigger" -- well yes, my garage has more stuff in it than it did 10 years ago! Everybody has more stuff [over time].

    But the interesting twist is that big data has an element of data science, which I think is more important. It first makes small data out of big data and then it looks for signals in that small data to understand what to do: Who's going to win the election? What are the correlations between weather and language? Things that we simply didn't have enough processing power in the last century. And now you've got a democratizing aspect with Hadoop and other things. So you had a fundamental shift around price and performance around compute.

    The benefits of that are in some cases pretty clear, and in some cases there is gee-whiz science for which the benefits are not. So I think this aspect of being able to get a lot of information by increasingly electronic things -- the supermarket, bridges, cars, roads -- so you have sensor data. More data doesn't make you any smarter; it just means you spent a lot of money to store it. This is where the market will shake out -- the benefits.

    In retail it's clear. Pricing, etc. The financial industry -- that's clear. But in certain industries, it's not clear, putting all this effort in rather than looking at the R&D budget or spending on marketing. I'm not here to tell you it's a panacea; I'm here to tell you that managing that data ... people are going to get varying mileage from it.

    On this week's episode of Mad Men, the ad agency Sterling Cooper & Partners replaces a meeting room with a new tool: an IBM System/360 mainframe computer. Some characters want the computer for competitive reasons; some want it because they see it as the future. Others are terrified that it will replace them. Is that how people look at big data?

    The fear of computers has, in fact, left the building. New generations of employees, people who graduated this millennium, my kids -- 13 and 6. The Millennials are not afraid of computers -- they make not be programmers, but they're tech-savvy. We think of them as citizen integrators. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was all about the dark side of big data. Today, there's more of an arms race of, "We don't want to be left behind." There are Orwellian concerns around big data in society, but not in business. But in business, there are issues around having the wrong data or not being able to get at information -- that's the same as it was 50, 60 years ago. At SnapLogic, we're trying to finish some unfinished business. Why is this so hard in 2014?

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