Schmarzo: An over-infatuation with data

The “Dean of Big Data,” Bill Schmarzo, said what I think few of his peers would say on the record: “We have an over-infatuation with data.”

Yet there it was, in the Marriott lobby adjoining last week’s Strata+Hadoop conference in San Jose, CA.

Before you can decide on your data, he insists, you have to decide on your decisions. He said, “That is clearly the biggest challenge in the ‘smart’ conversation,” such as in establishing a “smart city.”

Schmarzo, who is by day Dell EMC CTO, jumped into the “smart city” conversation recently when he joined the San Jose, CA Innovation Advisory Board. His first question was to the airport CTO: what decisions do you face? From there, they could choose data. Must they spot beacons over the terminals, for example, or to use the cheaper and readily available MAC addresses? Such choices could make a difference to that CTO and any tax-starved cities on their way to “smart.”

I asked how people react when he suggests easing up on collecting data willy nilly, consuming it like junk food binges? He paused. “So far, the vast majority are relieved,” he said. “They don’t know what to do with all the data.”

“We over-complicate things, and data vendors are the most guilty,” he said. “They talk about smart this and smart that. And they say ‘You gotta have this technology and these gateways.’ But what will you do with that?”

There’s still one more thing to do: explain the decisions. How can you make the data be made interesting not only for the mayor but the citizens, too? “What I don’t know how to do,” he said, “is how to tell a story around it.”

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