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'Big data' tops list of annoying data management industry buzzwords

Find out why popular data management industry phrases like 'big data' and 'single version of the truth' really irritate some experts.

Thinking too hard about popular data management industry buzzwords like 'big data' can cause a person to go nuts, according to analysts and technology professionals.

That's because -- despite their widespread use -- many data management industry buzzwords, marketing terms and catch phrases tend to lose their intended meaning when put under a magnifying glass. But rather than obsessing over it to the point of madness, most have opted to accept phases like 'big data' and 'single version of the truth' and simply move on with their lives.

Just ask Donald Feinberg, a well-known data management analyst and vice president with Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Gartner Inc. Feinberg hates 'big data' but reluctantly uses it anyway. Sure, he spent some time trying to convince fellow industry insiders not to use the phrase. But that was like trying to paddle a canoe upstream against the prevailing wind.

Vendors and marketers use the phrase 'big data' to describe the huge volumes of information that organizations today are struggling to manage. Feinberg points out, however, that there is much more to the 'big data' problem than volume.

"When you look at the problems that the big data vendors or the concept of big data is addressing, you find out that it's not just volume," he said. "They're addressing the complexity of the data, [and they're] looking at handling data that is coming in very fast. So it's volume, velocity, variety and complexity. It's not just volume. That's why I don't like it."

Another data management industry phrase that raises Feinberg's ire is 'Active Data Warehouse,' which is actually a product name from data warehouse market leader Teradata. In this case, however, it's not the meaning of the phrase that bothers Feinberg, it's the fact that he can't think of a better alternative to use in conversations with clients.

The analyst credits Teradata marketers with forcing people to use 'Active Data Warehouse' in everyday conversation, much like the company that makes Kleenex managed to get folks saying 'Kleenex' instead of' 'tissue.'

"Teradata introduced this idea of an 'Active Data Warehouse' where the warehouse can balance the workload and be used to [manage] historical data for transaction systems," Feinberg explained. "Now here is my point: How do you describe that concept without using the words 'Active Data Warehouse?' And the minute you do, you're using a product term from Teradata. I hate it and I think it's ingenious."

Steve Strout, the CEO of Black Watch Data, an Atlanta-based data management software firm, said he thinks the phrases 'data governance' and 'master data management' can be annoying. At a high level, data governance typically refers to an organization's efforts to enact policies designed to ensure the accuracy of information. Master data management (MDM) combines data governance policies with technology in an effort to synchronize critical information across an organization's business units.

"There isn't a common description of what [data governance] really is," Strout said in an email interview. "Even though it is a really important discussion, it seems everyone has their own definition."

While Strout believes that master data management is also an important issue, he feels that software vendors have managed to convince people to forget about the decidedly human or cultural aspects of the discipline.

"['Master data management' is annoying] mainly because it's thought by many people that the software alone will be the 'silver bullet' that can solve all their data issues," Strout said. "While maybe they intellectually know better, they allow the vendors, who are pretty persuasive, to convince them that the technology is all they need."

And Strout isn't the only one who has a problem with MDM-related terminology. Richard Ordowich, a senior partner with STS Associates Inc., a Princeton, N.J.-based data management consulting firm, dislikes it when people say the objective of MDM is to arrive at a 'single version of the truth' because the phrase sets unrealistic goals.

"A single version of the truth?" Ordowich said in an email interview. "Even Greek philosophers couldn’t solve this one!"

Organizations are often heard claiming that they treat "data as an asset," but Ordowich thinks that is a bit ridiculous because typical assets like money or material goods can be easily measured. The consultant said this is not the case when it comes to data. 

"No one has a way to measure this [and] besides, I don’t think Reuters or Bloomberg measure this even though they sell data," Ordowich said. "Does this asset depreciate? [And] once you’ve calculated a data element’s asset value what do you do with that knowledge?"

Ordowich added that he could do without the phrase 'data quality,' which typically refers to steps taken and technology used to ensure that information is accurate, deduplicated and up to date.

"It’s not the data that needs to improve, it’s the policies and processes," he said. "If the organization has no quality practices in other domains, data quality is really just data fixing."

What are your least favorite data management industry buzzwords and phrases and why? Email News Editor Mark Brunelli your thoughts on the topic and there is a good chance your comments will be included in an upcoming follow-up story. And be sure to follow Mark on Twitter @Brunola88.

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