What does big data promise? Big data promises everything, all data, all the time.

Technologists, database designers, managers and executives all struggle with the concept of big data. The following illustrative example of the Everything Spreadsheet is provided to provide a means for all interested parties at a company to develop a shared understanding of big data and its potential applications in order to scope the types of questions and applications where big data might be applied.

We use the concept of an empty data spreadsheet, like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and workbook, to illustrate big data concepts since most managers, executives and technologists are familiar with how spreadsheets work.

1. Let’s start with a blank spreadsheet.

2. Imagine going to a cell in the Everything Spreadsheet and hovering over a cell that reacts by listing every data item imaginable. You Select ‘Total Sales 2008’. You have selected ‘Total Sales’ without choosing what was sold, what, where, seller, buyer…in Big Data this is all sales 2008 – everything.

3. With “Total Sales 2008” selected, you can now select another data item for any adjacent cell or insert a formula or function. It is possible to relate “Total Sales 2008” to anything.

4. So hover over the adjacent cell to the right. Hovering again exposes every possible data field and this time we select “Car Models”.

5. Congratulations, you just created your first big data application or report (historical reports will become less important as big data applications evolve – imagine placing “Total Sales 2020-2030” across a range of cells in place of “Total Sales 2008”). Hit “Run”.

6. The Big Data Everything Spreadsheet Result is very fast - but also vague. Is “Total Sales 2008” the number of cars sold or the sales amount? Or maybe net revenue per automaker? The Big Data answer is simple – it can be any and all of those possibilities. “Which would you like?”