There are enthusiasts about the possibilities of big data. And then there’s Chris Lynch.
Lynch is an angel investor who succeeded in a career that started in the minicomputer industry, shifted to Internet networking technologies in the 1990s and was capped by the sale of analytics developer Vertica, where he was CEO, to HP in 2011. As a member of the Atlas Venture team in Cambridge, Mass., Lynch now hunts for opportunities to nurture startups looking to “curate the signal from all this noise,” he told an audience of software developers and systems integrators at an IBM business partners’ event May 23 in Waltham, Mass. Among those startups is Hadapt, makers of an analytics platform for Hadoop, where Lynch became chairman of the board in April.
“All this noise” refers to the exabytes (one billion gigabytes) of data generated globally every few days, a resource from which all organizations can derive meaning to improve their operations, and especially, build stronger relationships with customers. Lynch said he believes the need to understand these expanding oceans of data, to analyze patterns in real-time and discover new relationships, will change society and drive economic growth.
“I think big data will overshadow California gold rush and the industrial revolution,” he said. “The growth in big data will outstrip every other [technology] trend” we have seen, he said, adding that provides many opportunities to industry players in areas including analytics, IT infrastructure and cloud-based products and services.
Among Lynch’s other observations and remarks:
- Big data in the boardroom. Within the next two years, the CEO of every major corporation—no matter what the industry—will be asked about the company’s plans for using big data. How is the company analyzing the data it collects—and data from other sources—to better serve customers?
- The democratization of data insights. While big data will be a boardroom theme, analytics drawn from big data will make its mark at the front lines of business and society. Lynch described a scenario in which a clothing retail sales clerk, after noticing a brand of jeans popular at a pop concert, returned to work the next day and made sure that other stores in her company’s chain located along the route of the pop star’s concert tour also stocked the same jeans. The democratization of data should empower every knowledge worker, he said. The variety and volumes of data mean that data warehouses that housed “a single version of the truth” are not relevant unless they are married to Twitter streams and other data sources, he added.
- The power of visualizations. Analytics applications need to create visualizations of the complex relationships that exist not only among people, but among products and markets, Lynch said. Drug discovery through analysis of various compounds is one of many opportunities.
- The need for more data scientists. The world needs more data experts, and Lynch said he is working to increase the supply in the Boston area. Lynch said his involvement in Hack/reduce, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit organization started as a place where data scientists can meet, experiment on data sets and learn new skills, is an important effort to create new talent in the Boston area to feed the budding need locally. IBM, Harvard and MIT are among the supporters of Hack/reduce so far, he said.
- Embedded analytics. Lynch said he is interested in investing in companies working to embed analytics in various technology products and services, to make analytics more accessible. “There’s a real opportunity to take the technology and integrate it in applications that people can use, to create a ‘push here’ dumb button for analytics,” he said.
- Relationships with consumers. Lynch said that the industry needs to figure out the economics of using consumer data, to have consumers participate in the creation of value by offering products or services in return. Failing to manage this properly could invite government regulators to step in. “It’s early days,” he added.
Michael Goldberg is editor of Data Informed.