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When asked, ‘What is Big Data?’ Responses almost invariably boil down to three V words at the core – volume, velocity, variety - with another one or two sometimes thrown in for good measure. Frankly, I think there is a bigger trend afoot; a trend that the term ‘Big Data’ is ill equipped to define. And I have heard many others share the same thought.

And that of course is the million dollar question: What is the right term to define this trend? Or maybe it’s the billion dollar question since everyone points to Google, Facebook, and eBay when they think of Big Data. This blog describes where my thinking is at today. Be sure to comment and share your thoughts! Maybe together we can find a better term.

What is truly powerful about Google, Facebook, and eBay is how they transform data into insights, driving massive valuations in only a few years. Of course it’s not just about the ‘cha-ching’ of shareholder returns. Stop and think for a moment what truly impresses you about these companies. Here’s how Google and Facebook inspire me:

Google. I personally love how Google finds the information I’m looking for across the Internet and at lightning speed! Of course there is a really impressive architecture to take the network of information (that’s all the content on the Web), turn it into sophisticated intelligence (using nifty algorithms), and drive the resulting insights to a network of users (that’s us).

Facebook. No denying the fun in stalking long forgotten classmates and old neighborhood chums. But what’s truly interesting about Facebook is how they turn your profile and your network into insights about what matters to you, and then match you to the right advertisers. Over $5 billion a year in ad revenue is not too shabby for only 9 years of work!

No, Big Data is not what is impressive about Google and Facebook; Big Data is only a part of what makes them successful. What’s impressive is how they apply intelligence in their networks. In the case of Google, their network is the Internet. In the case of Facebook, their network is the 800 million users and the companies that want to advertise to them.

For enterprises wanting to harness data to become the leaders of their industry, a Big Data strategy is not enough. No, their strategy needs to insert intelligence into their networks of employees, customers, processes and resources. And that’s what some of SAP’s most innovative customers are doing. They are building Networked Intelligence into their organizations and changing how we work, play and live.

So what is Networked Intelligence? It is the second phase of Insight-based Computing, and builds upon Big Data and data warehousing. Watch for my next post describing my thesis on Insight-based Computing, blog style.