Big Data and Analytics Panel Discussion: The State of Big Data
By Charles W. Stryker
In the fall of 2016, VDC hosted an event, VDC Connect, in New York City to bring together the leading thinkers in the Big Data and Analytics ecosphere. VDC Connect provided a unique opportunity for leading executives to share with each other and the selected audience of invitees the lessons they have learned in bringing their firms into the world of Big Data and Analytics.
The first panel, reported in a previous blog, illustrated the dramatic corporate transformations occurring that are data-centric and revolutionizing industries. This second panel was designed to describe the current state of Big Data and Analytics in the most comprehensive and informed manner, inviting executives who are at the center of driving the Big Data and Analytics implementations for global brands. We asked them to share their thinking about the current state of Big Data and Analytics.
Neil Isford, IBM General Manager, Cognitive Industry Solutions, started the discussion. In his position, Neil is responsible for all sales and go-to-market strategies for a set of cognitive solutions for the 14 major industries that IBM serves around the world. His toolkit to do this work includes the Watson capability, which has already become a household name. He also has the broad spectrum of analytics products that IBM owns and supports. As reported in the press, Cognitive Solutions has been described by IBM as their future growth engine. Neil is a point person to make that happen for IBM. According to Neil…
“If we just look at the last couple years, I think the biggest change is the ability to start leveraging unstructured data. It’s leveraging what the industry now calls “Cognitive Systems”, systems that can perform natural language processing and deep learning capabilities to create business value from what is 80% of the data that exist. That’s not just structured text and emails; it’s everything that’s encoded in language, videos, and it’s no longer a future promise. We’re seeing companies do it today. In the medical field, today’s doctors can treat cancer with access to all the research and the medical records available throughout the world. Oil and gas companies use Big Data to educate their engineers so they see all the studies and all the tests that have been done so they can better service an oil rig. Insurance companies use it to better sell insurance over the web. It’s no longer a future promise. This is today.
“Big Data has evolved. It used to be a data governance issue. I think we’re getting our hands more around how to define the data, who gets to see the data, who can change the data. Better tools and better processes help. Now, I think the data security and privacy issues are the ones that need more focus. The threat is both external and internal and it needs attention from both external and internal sources.
“We have coined a new term, ‘embodied cognition’, that applies to many devices out there now that have been dumb and now there are great opportunities to make them smart: the automobile, for example.
“Think about the ability to take any piece of hardware but now have it interact; have it benefit from cognitive services, like conversation. Now think about the fact that the automobile now knows when you get in. It sets the seat, the climate, the entertainment, and knows where you’re going from your calendar. It knows the weather conditions; it knows the road conditions, etc.
“We’re starting to see hotel chains utilizing robots. While these robots aren’t quite at an affordable price point yet, where we’re seeing them everywhere, I think there’s a huge opportunity with Avatars where they’re software embodied. As such, they can react to your voice or your emotions. They can look like a human or they can be symbolic where they will change colour based on mood.
“We’re also starting to see very interesting opportunities to improve customer experience as we apply cognitive capabilities to things like physical spaces – from operating rooms for surgeons to where a financial advisor might bring his client for optimum effect. I was with a company last week where we built an avatar demo for a cruise ship company. Think about embodying the cruise ship cabin with the ability to react to every aspect of your day. . Embodied cognition holds tremendous opportunities as we advance the Internet of Things (IOT). We will have this cognitive capability improve many aspects of our life in this new world.”
Hank Weghorst is CTO of Avention. Avention was known as the owners of the OneSource product suite. Hank is responsible for all design implementation related to building one of the best Big Data and Analytics platforms for the enterprise B2B marketplace. Hank is the holder of many software patents both in communications and, in three dimensional imagery which, when it began, was probably one of the most intensive data driven businesses that existed. Many of the computer effects that people watch today are based on the patents that Hank holds.
As Hank put it, “The biggest transition that we’ve gone through recently is a business change whereby the awareness of C-level executives has been raised concerning the value that data can bring to their businesses decision making. Big Data has taken on corporate significance; it has become a pull by companies instead of a push by suppliers. In the last few years things have switched and now it’s more likely that an initiative from the top will produce value through Big Data, whether it’s to find efficiencies or drive new revenue.
“Increasingly, I’ve been asked to look at business problems in terms of possible data centric solutions. We look at the data we have internally and the data that is or should be available in the marketplace and need to bring it all together. That’s a beautiful thing for the data world, because now all of a sudden there’s exposure up and down the stack. There’s actually support from the top levels down. And, after having been someone who’s pushed and pushed for years from the bottom up, it’s nice to finally feel some lifting.
“Frustration in the organization happens because of the decentralization of the problem. What I mean by that is we’ll be dealing with a functional group that really wants to attack this problem but realizes that half the data we need is in other functional groups. So the data is siloed and the problems are siloed.
“Then you get the other end of the spectrum which is top down. A Big Data initiative appears to be so large that nobody can solve it. Sometimes the project is too big and it becomes hard to identify the problem that needs to be solved. We use best practices to steer more toward smaller functional problems with data that is within the purview of the group that actually has the initiative and the wherewithal to get it done. Success with this approach encourages more top down support.
“Success creates centralized initiatives with a top down push. It’s really interesting that people in functional silos really want this to happen but yet can’t get access to data because it’s three hops away and they have to issue a recommendation to have IT plan for it and get budget for it. Many people feel frustrated because they know they can drive value immediately from the Big Data project. We find out what data is within their purview and then what can we bring to them in terms of external data to the organization. We put it together with the client in a way that can show immediate value.
“I am often asked how my experience in the movie making business relates to the data business. There are similarities when you consider that we had a visual database that described everything we wanted to show, including textures and colors. Where we are with the data world for B2B with sales and marketing type data is the equivalent of making a picture of the prospect. The next step is to make a movie of that prospect or customer. In other words, how does that company or person change over time?
“If we make a movie of a sales prospect, we will want to have enough data to know when a major event occurs in the company. There are studies done in the B2B sales world that say as much as 80% of net new buying by companies is event based: they get a new executive in charge; they open a new office; or, they produce a new product. You tend to make technology purchases in relationship to new initiatives.
“Events happen over time. So if we’re not collecting information over time, then we’re missing the opportunity to identify key change events. What happens over time? Now, if you relate that to the difference between a photograph and a movie, clarity becomes apparent. For example, If I was to hand you a photo of Mohammed Ali you would say, ‘that guy looks like he would be a pretty good puncher’. If I hand you a video of an Ali fight, there would be absolutely no doubt in your mind that he is a good puncher. And so we will grow up as an industry, just as we grew up in the film world. I think the data world in this industry is going to grow up from characteristics styled data to time series based data.
“Another aspect to consider is the impact of “The Internet of Things”. Even though it is such a buzz word today, it’s going to create an enormous amount of data that’s going to be usable in many ways. The future of data looks very good!”
Rick Erwin is the president of Audience Solutions for Acxiom. Audience Solutions is the core data business of Acxiom. In this capacity, Rick develops strategy, growth and profitability programs for Acxiom. He is immersed in working with global enterprise clients that have been Acxiom’s customers for, in some cases, decades. In other cases, Rick also deals with brand enterprises, when they are focused on digital transformation.
As Rick put it, “The arc of this phenomenon of Big Data is awfully reminiscent of the arc of the phenomenon of the Internet. It’s just the data content side of the same sort of arc, and what I mean by that is if this was the late 1990’s we could be assembled to figure out what’s happening with this new thing called the Internet that’s transforming business. The Internet is a part of most business processes in almost every company. When it comes to Big Data, we can see all this fabulous progress we’ve made, but we also see how early on we are.
“The biggest thing that we see is the shift of the advertising and marketing business to one that was predominantly based on the performance of a medium to now one that will be predominantly based on the performance of an audience or the individual in an audience. This shift from media based to audience based is causing the kind of disruption that is really wrenching and pulling apart business models across the enterprise.
“We live in the world of marketing and advertising. Typical e-commerce managers have a ton of anonymous users visiting their properties and these anonymous users probably get some kind of identifier like a cookie dropped on their browser or a mobile identifier. If that same user comes back on a different device, they look like a different person to that e-commerce manager.
“We have this enormous Big Data identity resolution system called Abilitec. Abilitec is able to resolve any form of consumer identity that’s ever appeared back to a single numeric identifier. That numeric identifier can be put on a bank’s internal customer database so that the bank can identify you as one customer across all their lines of business.
“In just the past 6 months we’ve enabled this system that processes a billion identity records an hour. Now the e-commerce manager can see hundreds of millions of anonymous digital identifiers that have visited one of their properties. Now, for the first time, they can get a portrait of how a single human being navigates their web properties and that’s a huge leap forward. It’s kind of non-sexy to talk about how we enabled it in the background, but in terms of the value it creates for marketers and advertisers, it’s huge. That’s the way we tackle the big moves in Big Data. We try to do things that may not seem very exciting in the back office but it produces leverage for our marketer clients in the front office.
“I’m fascinated by the natural gulf that always happens by the state of the art technology and then the ability or the willingness for humans to do something with it. I look for things that I think might help bridge that gulf. The Internet of Things will create an enormous amount of data that’s going to be used. It will be interesting to see what we can do with it all.”
Randy Bean is Contributing Big Data Author for the Wall Street Journal & Forbes and CEO of New Vantage Partners, LLC. Randy is a contributing Big Data author that you read about in the press all the time. And for those of you more immersed in the topic, he’s also a contributing author to the Harvard Business Review and the MIT Sloan Management Review. Randy is the most recognised author in the field of Big Data and Analytics.
“Because I write a lot, I always have to be thinking of what is the story that holds people’s interest. So let me tell you my story briefly. I started as a COBOL programmer. I wasn’t interested in the programming, but was interested in all this data that was being assembled and organised. When I asked colleagues what they were doing with this data, they said they were storing it. So to me it seemed like a tremendous missed opportunity to gain insight into the information that the organisation had at its fingertips.
“Fast forward to 2011, when I picked up a publication on Big Data. My first reaction was, isn’t this what I’ve been doing for the past several decades? Part of that answer was no in that there is a whole set of new tools and technologies that really empower the business today that weren’t available earlier.
“Big Data programs are proliferating. According to a survey we conducted of Fortune 500 executives, 63% of firms reported having a Big Data program in production, up from just 5% in 2012. 63% of firms reported that they expect to invest greater than 10 billion dollars in Big Data in 2017. Significantly, 54% of firms reported they appointed a chief data officer, up from 12% in 2012. That points to the centrality of data in organizations. 70% of firms say data is of critical importance to their firms, up from 21% in 2012. This development illustrates the fact that the concept of Big Data and Analytics is being elevated in importance in the minds of boards of directors and the C Suite.
“We do a lot of work within the financial services industry, which is probably the largest investor and has the biggest impact in terms of total investment in Big Data Analytics. Recently I wrote a story about American Express and how they’ve been able to streamline the credit process through Big Data Analytics. They are able to look at 10 years of data down to the most minute level of credit transaction and make decisions in milliseconds. Now they can look at somebody’s complete credit before approving each and every transaction. That’s something that’s extraordinary. It hadn’t been able to be achieved before and it both streamlines credit approval processes and helps mitigate credit risk as well.
“Big Data Analytics can be used to fight famine, fight disease, and address many other social issues. There are a lot of interesting things from the social perspective that Big Data Analytics can address. For example, I was talking with one of the major banks the other day and they said this concept is very important for big corporations as well because they have a lot of data that can be used for positive social purposes. Good social responsibility can also be good business. This social imperative of Big Data in corporate America is something we’re going to hear more about in the coming days and years.”