It was a much older, more mature, and more experienced audience. The first Strata conference I attended in Santa Clara was geared towards the startup and engineer/data scientist audiences. There were lots of presentations and hallway discussions about over-throwing traditional data and analytics markets and leveraging a bevy of new, exotic technologies like Hadoop and MapReduce. Very fun and very exciting! The ambiance of this year’s NYC show was more reserved and the conversations more practical, which I think reflect that big data and Hadoop are moving into the mainstream conversation.The presence of traditional data management, data warehouse, and business intelligence vendors has grown. The event is definitely maturing, and the traditional larger data warehouse and business intelligence vendors are demanding a larger say in the topics and agenda – which is not always to the benefit of attendees. Too many booth presentations glossed over the real big data challenges like proof points and use cases. By the way, sticking the words “Big Data” in front of your product does not make your product big data ready.There was a constant and confusing stream of new product announcements. Want Hadoop? Which version? From which vendor? Instead of starting to settle out, the technology foundation of big data just seems to keep morphing. How are organizations supposed to know which technologies they are going to need to invest in when there is a seemingly endless number of choices and combinations? To be honest, I think these ever-shifting sands of big data technologies are slowing adoption as more organizations are struggling to stay on top of the latest and greatest product promises. I’d hate to be a CIO today.Many of the same show topics were discussed in previous years. Plus, many of those topics still focused on educating folks on the basics of big data technologies (or how yesterday’s technologies are still relevant). I sat in a marvelous and packed presentation that discussed the differences between a data warehouse and Hadoop. The audience loved the presentation, but I saw that same presentation from different presenter two years ago. Has big data become one of those topics everyone talks about, but no one really does much to further develop? Or is it that they are still trying to find the best place to use big data technologies? As many people know, I love attending Strata events. They’re always full of interesting and provocative topics for discussion and the exhibit hall has lots of new or updated products and product roadmaps.I recently attended the Strata + Hadoop World event in New York City and picked up a plethora of highly interesting and valuable information. The conference convinced me more than ever that in order to be successful in determining which technology capabilities to invest in, organizations need to take a business-led approach. If organizations take a technology-led approach with big data, the constantly changing options will just confuse IT organizations and slow the adoption of some of these game-changing technologies.Instead, we in EMC Global Services have learned that organizations need to define a targeted business initiative first. Then let the business requirements (the decisions the business stakeholders need to make, the questions that they need to answer to support those decisions, the key performance indicators against which the business defines success) drive the technology and data requirements.Organizations need guidelines that they can use in order to make the necessary data and technology determinations. Targeting a key business initiative is a great way to start. Organizations must ask themselves the following questions:What data, data management, and advanced analytics do I need to support that business initiative?What supporting technologies and infrastructure do I need to support the data management and advanced analytics requirements?How am I going to surface the results of the analytics in such a way that is actionable to my business stakeholders (user experience requirements)?Perhaps the most important thing about selecting a specific business initiative is that it will also tell organizations what data, data management, and advanced analytic capabilities they won’t have to worry about.The technology capabilities of the big data movement continue to amaze me. However, until we embrace a business-led approach that focuses on enabling the organization’s key business initiatives with specific data management, advanced analytics, and actionable user experience capabilities, big data will continue to look like a science experiment with confusing and questionable technology claims – lots of talk and lots of interest, but not a lot of action.