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Thoughts on the NZ Big Data Conference

03 October 2012

I wasn’t going to attend the New Zealand Big Data Conference. I will admit to a bit of cynicism about events organised by the professional conference companies. With no peer review of presentations the variation in quality can be huge, and they can be dominated by sponsor input. A couple of things fell into place this time – I was offered a free ticket (thanks Phil – you rock), and a half day meeting that was in my diary for the Friday was postponed meaning I had no excuse not to attend. At the very least I thought it would be good to catch up with the local business intelligence community, which I have not spent enough time with recently.

The big sponsors were SAS and EMC (who got speaking slots) along with local consulting company, and friend of WhereScape, Theta. Lukas Svoboda was a good conference chair, and Conferenz did a very professional job of running the event (which is the advantage of the professional conference companies).

The conference opening was a five minute advertisement by SAS – and I mean an actual advertisement. Perhaps more suited to a SAS conference than an industry conference. Peter Kokinaskos from SAS was however a good speaker, and being first up took on the unenviable task of defining big data, complete with the three Vs.

Katrine Evans, Assistant Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner gave a thought provoking talk on privacy and big data. I particularly liked her comment that there is a person behind every bit of personal data. Obvious when she said it, but as data people we do sometimes need reminding of this.

As you would expect from the pros, Clive Gold from EMC was another very good speaker. Check out a project EMC are sponsoring – The Human Face of Big Data ( From the website:

Download the free mobile app and learn about yourself, how you compare to others, and what your phone can tell you about your life. Compare answers about yourself, your family, trust, sleep, sex, dating, and dreams with millions of others around the world. Find your Data Doppelganger. Map your daily footprint, share what brings you luck, and get a glimpse into the one thing people want to experience during their lifetime. We'll donate $1 per download to charity: water for the first 50,000 downloads, as a way to say thank you for participating in The Human Face of Big Data. charity: water uses 100% of public donations to directly fund clean water projects.

The afternoon sessions were the high points of the conference. Kiwibank’s Chris La Grange was on two strikes as he took to the stage (the post lunch slot and a talk on data governance policies) but managed to hit it out of the park.
Chris’s comments on how data governance does not have an end date, and that it was a process not a project were the basis of the most picked up tweet of the day. His comments resonated with three data Twitter heavyweights @YvesMulkers (8700 followers - who has an auto retweet set up on #bigdata which is one of the reasons his exposure numbers are so high), @Merv (Gartner’s Merv Adrian with 7000 followers) and @datachick (Karen Lopez with 6300 followers).
As an aside, if you look at the twitter analysis of the conference hashtag (#nzbigdata) you would have to say we were pretty average with our twitter output from a big data conference!



Simon Pohlen, Head of Technology and New Capabilities, Loyalty New Zealand, gave one of the best Big Data case studies I have heard. While Loyalty New Zealand (think Fly Buys) is very strong in New Zealand, with only 4.4 million people in the country the data volumes are not “big”. The techniques they are applying are, however, very much big data.

I enjoyed Phillip Higgins’ discussion and demonstrations of big data. I suspect some of the more marketing oriented people in the room were wondering what hit them, but it was a well put together talk and a nice counterpart to the more theoretical discussions.

Overall I would rate the event as useful, and I suspect Confernz will run it again next year. WhereScape is also running a Big Data event in New Zealand, but ours will be quite different. We are bringing down Marc Demarest, who (along with Mark Madsen) has keynoted the last two TDWI Big Data World Conferences in San Diego. Marc is highly knowledgeable and an engaging speaker, and we are going to try and separate the big data hype from the reality. We will be running the event in Auckland on October 30th (see the WhereScape website for more information), and may also be running one in Nelson. Stay tuned for more on that one.


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