This image of the United States of America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. (Courtesy of NASA)

It’s the first annual “Data Innovation Day” Thursday.

That, at least, is according to The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a think tank centered around technology innovation policy. The day includes a series of events hosted in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and California. But it arrives as some have begun to relegate “big data” to the pile of tech buzzwords.

Data Innovation Day event participants include members of the public and private sector, among them, Department of Energy Senior Policy Advisor and Chief Technology Officer of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Robert Bectel, Amazon Public Sector Vice President Teresa Carlson and IBM Smarter Cities North America Vice President Nancy Staisey. The panels focus on how government and marketers use data as well as “where the innovators are” when it comes to using and manipulating data, among other topics.

“I think there is something special about this day and I say that ... because I think we are sitting on an incredible opportunity,” said IBM’s Staisey.

In short: If you love “big data,” this is your day.

Now, there has been plenty of talk both on this blog and elsewhere of the potential for “big data,” from disease cures to improved crime prevention. But, for some, the promise of “big data” has been dangling out there for too long. Svetlana Sicular, research director at IT research and consulting firm Gartner wrote on Jan. 22 that the “last several weeks show that big data is falling into the trough of disillusionment.” Using the Gartner Hype Cycle, Sicular finds that “big data” is “at the peak of inflated expectations.”

A graph produced by iT research and consulting firm Gartner showing the Hype Cycle of Big Data. (Gartner)

The reason for this fall into the trough is, according to Sicular, that the task of mining big data is difficult — very difficult.

“Formulating a right question is always hard, but with big data, it is an order of magnitude harder, because you are blazing the trail (not grazing on the green field).”

The volume of data and variety of types makes the challenge a particularly stubborn one. As IBM’s Staisey puts it, “If we could actually visually see the amount of data we’re producing, we would see this absolute avalanche of information trailing us.”

“There are two key challenges that need to be tackled,” said Staisey, “the first is a lack of trained analytics resources and the second is the need to embrace a culture of analytics where the focus of decision-making is on knowing, facts, and information as opposed to guessing.”

So, are innovators preparing to pack up and move on to the next challenge? Not quite.

As Slashdot Senior Editor Nick Kolakowski points out, Sicular’s analysis is not entirely in line with the consensus over big data’s future promise. A report from Gartner released Jan. 3, projects that, in 2013, business’s spending on big data technologies will increase, with worldwide IT spending expected to reach $3.7 trillion in 2013.

“I wouldn’t say the promise has fallen short, I would say there’s still great potential ahead of us,” said IBM’s Staisey, “we’ve seen a lot of movement over the course of this year in terms of cities in particular understanding how they can start using data in new ways.”

Are you celebrating Data Innovation Day? If so, let us know in the comments. And, while you’re at it, let us know your expectations for “big data” in the coming year.s

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