Atlanta’s Big Data Moment

May 10, 2013
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big data conferenceThe possibility to be a part of International Big Data Week presented itself to my company in March. After some consideration, I allowed my team to be the city host and organizer, bringing the event to Atlanta.  We moved cautiously and with humble expectations—if there happened to be a few events that gathered 40 or 50 people from across the city of Atlanta, I would be surprised.

big data conferenceThe possibility to be a part of International Big Data Week presented itself to my company in March. After some consideration, I allowed my team to be the city host and organizer, bringing the event to Atlanta.  We moved cautiously and with humble expectations—if there happened to be a few events that gathered 40 or 50 people from across the city of Atlanta, I would be surprised. What happened between then and now, though, has truly blown away any expectation I ever had.

Big Data Week in Atlanta worked like a magnetic force that gathered hundreds of professionals from across several industry sectors around the common idea that Big Data is fueling answers to difficult questions.  Big Data Week in Atlanta ballooned to hosting the most number of events and participants of any other city that participated in the Big Data Week event internationally. Atlanta alone had than 800 attendants and 22 events, to be exact. All with less than 4 weeks of planning! It’s hard to ignore the promise and future of an innovative force that drives these kinds of numbers during an inaugural event.

Looking back on the past few months, I realize that the Big Data nay-sayers hold little weight compared to the hundreds of dedicated industry thought leaders that gathered to talk about real Big Data problems, the fast changing landscape and solutions. Big Data is a cross sector play and is fueling cross-sector innovation that is here to stay; it will drive Atlanta to be a leader across industries.  Here’s how and why.

A Polarizing Force

We’ve seen it before—a brilliant new tech hype cycles and innovation bursts into the world, or technological progress catches up to theory, and a wide mix of early adopters, the cautiously curious, and full-on nay-sayers emerge. The same thing is happening right now to Big Data that happened with the Internet and electricity. Our modern societies wouldn’t function without either of the two, and Big Data will effectively change how we live our lives, however subtle or overt the effects might be.

Some of the great inventions of the Twentieth Century truly acted like a magnet. They attracted the attention of the people and ideas that supported them, developed support, and occasionally repelled others who would eventually realize their lack of insight. Big Data Week in Atlanta demonstrated just how much of a magnet Big Data is for the city in the Twenty-First Century.

An Industry Uniting Across Industries

The evidence of polarity in conversations around Big Data does not reflect the truly cross-sector influence analytics-based questions are having. As my team was planning Big Data Week they had to add more and more events to the roster due to the demand from every sector of Atlanta’s broad and diverse business community.

From finance to law enforcement, email marketing to the public health sector, and from startups to data giants, leaders from surprisingly disparate industries were banging down our doors to be a part of thought leadership, listen to the others so as to not miss what comes around next with Big Data. With a turnout and demand like we had in a city that is notorious for lacking a sense of unity, the evidence of Big Data’s force was concrete.

The Power of Gravity

Atlantans love to crack dark jokes about the never-ending battle against the traffic we all face. In spite of the daily clogs in Atlanta’s transportation arteries, Big Data Week’s force was strong enough to pull hundreds of people through 6-lane traffic backups, take them away from meetings and work, and galvanized competitors in thought around this phenomenon that is affecting everyone.

Atlanta already has a place in the tech world, even if that world has declared us less hip than Austin or San Francisco. We have one of the largest intersections of fiber optic cable in the country, making our connectivity a force to reckon with. Georgia generated over $22 billion in tech-related payroll spending in 2012, most of which happened right here in the Peach State’s capital. We have the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the nation and a vibrant startup community—all of which are touched by Big Data in one way or another.

The bottom line is that most businesses have data of some sort, and they see the need to use it to compete or die. Atlantans are savvy to survival. They are ready for a challenge, and are looking for solutions that are both innovative and have staying power. Big Data meets these needs, and Atlanta is ready to lead the way in being the best and the Hub for all things Big Data.

(image: Internat’l Big Data Week / shutterstock)