After 'big data': IT leaders ask, 'What's in it for me?'
Autonomy’s chief architect says CIOs are more inclined to focus on the solutions they need, rather than the bigger buzz around a rising tide of data.
For many, 2012 was the year of “big data.” It has been one of the most publicized topics in enterprise computing for the last year or two, and many senior IT executives began grappling with the challenges of storing, understanding, and drawing intelligence from ever-growing pools of data.
To see where the information leader should be looking in 2013, Discover Performance asked Autonomy chief architect Fernando Lucini for his perspective. Lucini, with a background in business and engineering, has been with Autonomy—and wrestling with the challenges of data and analytics—since 2000.
The chief trend, he says, is that CIOs and information management leaders are less interested in the “big data” label, and more interested in specific responses to specific challenges and opportunities.
“If you’re a major bank dealing with broadcast information—100 or 300 channels of video data all day that might contain information relevant to your business or key trading—you may not care whether I call that ‘big data,’” Lucini says. “But if I talk to you about a way to consume massive amounts of video, understand it well, and store it cheaply, you might want to have a piece of that.”
Q: Has the enterprise come to grips with the information explosion yet?
Fernando Lucini: I talk to very knowledgeable CIOs on this topic, and there’s a great divide between the ones who completely understand and those who don’t. They’re asking, “What does this big data thing mean to me?” and if they get it, they can take action. If they don’t, then they’ll continue to wait, see what happens, see what their peers are doing, and when they understand, then they can take action.
Any large enterprise, you have most of your knowledge in email, and that’s a monstrous repository of data that’s constantly in motion. You’ve got people dumping stuff in there—you don’t even know where to start. You’ve got audio and video coming out your ears, and now there’s BYOD, which means dealing with information in transit.
At Autonomy, we deal with information and these issues every day: that’s our currency. So it’s rare that you see a customer of ours say, “We have small information.” But they have to put it into the perspective that there is an element of this data that they’re not exploiting, and that they should exploit.
Q: So the wow factor of petabyte statistics is giving way to individual applications?
FL: Well, the next question with “big data” is: What’s in it? What can I exploit? One of our customers, a very large bank, told us, “We have these very large systems, and they’re making us less efficient, not more.” So the question becomes: “How do we take the noise and extract the things that are important, useful, that I need, so I can spend my time productively?”
Another customer, a telecom, had a challenge with signaling data, trying to give users a better experience. They’re a provider of information services, so they think of information in terms of giving customers better service at the layer of information, which lets the customer buy more from them. It’s a level we see in a lot of our interaction with customers.
Q: How does a CIO or a VP of information management find those opportunities and innovations?
FL: It’s not easy. If you ask a CIO, “How much opportunity to innovate are you losing because you don’t have the data?”—They’ll look at you like, “Of course I can’t answer that. Why are you here?” What you can do is have a method to bring more information to the surface.
You need to be prepared to arrive at this meeting with some fundamental problems that are clearly shared by the entire world, and a solution which is equally ubiquitous and fundamental. Information is universal. So providing value across all knowledge is clearly something desirable; if we can start with this simple building block, we’re then giving the CIO a framework or tool to innovate around information. This leads to very fruitful discovery conversations, where the capabilities of a core tool drive the thoughts around innovation or streamlining of processes, etc.
Q: So the value of mastering all that data is in finding new opportunities?
FL: There’s also efficiency. You know that the moment you have more than two groups of, say, five people, you will duplicate effort. Any CIO—anybody in their right mind at any creative entity—will know this. If we have two or three groups working on similar themes, they don’t tend to talk to each other, and information is lost.
If I’m working at a large engineering firm on a certain product description, I’m liable to reengineer the wheel over and over. If I can be looking through the engineering bibles and texts, and the firm’s own history and data, for something that fits the criteria of what I’m working on, I can avoid wasted duplication. If nothing fits my criteria, I know I can then continue on the design.
Otherwise, you recreate that process X number of times. The creation, the selling, the processes of going to market—you’ve had a lot of waste for lack of information. Can you fix it? Maybe not 100 percent, but you can certainly help it. You can give someone the ability to see whether it’s been done before.
Q: In 2013, the CIO is going to have a lot of fires to put out, and a lot of trends being heralded in the marketplace. Why should information management top the list?
FL: All these things are moving. One thing that’s constant is that your information is always just sitting there. That’s a risk and an opportunity. You have to decide where that data is going to sit.
Think of your information management as an operating system for information, in the broadest sense of “operating system” as something that gives you a service on top of something. If you have this information operating system in place, it can be there when you’re dealing with risk, with governance, with the value of information you’re delivering to the customer. It’s there when you’re dealing with “tearing down silos,” or dealing with mobile or BYOD. If you deal with the information at the beginning instead of at the end, it’s easier to work with all these other issues.
All of us will have to deal with information risk eventually. You can either wait until the problem comes to you, and then enable all these resources to try to deal with it, or you can put it in place first, and have a system that tells you which rules to apply in which new situations.
If you’re taking this to your CIO or CEO, it can be hard to say, “Do my bit first.” But we’re saying that if you figure out the operating system for information, mobility will be easier, risk management will be immediately easier. Innovation will be a little easier to obtain, information dissemination will be easier.
Q: So what are you looking for, when you solve that fundamental question?
FL: Well, with that earlier example, one function is helping you figure out whether the new whizno you’re designing is redundant, or where you’ve got duplicative processes. Your system has to be intelligent enough to understand concepts and themes, not just keywords, because different workers might apply different keywords—you need to be able to go deeper than that. So you can go on doing all the other things that are important to you, but this kind of system will help you get them done.
And I’m also hearing an interest in big data management as a SaaS function. People are saying, “I get this—now can I buy the value rather than the infrastructure?” I’m hearing this quite a lot, so that’s another direction the market is going.
Q: How are the best IT leaders tackling the issue?
FL: Rather than seeking whether they “have big data,” CIOs are saying, “What aspects of big data technologies can solve my problem?” One area we’re working with a lot is email systems, files, sharepoints—CIOs are becoming more cognizant that these systems hold key information for their users, and they’re big and moving quick.
Except for certain industries, they’re not looking toward that more exotic aspect where big data is represented by sensors at the bottom of the sea. It’s the data in these common systems, but lots of it of undetermined value. What’s happening to your brand in social media, for instance, is something that should be part of your daily life. The way people are interacting with data in your organization, how you use your information, deal with information gaps, and all that.
It’s no longer a question of whether the big data label applies to your enterprise. CIOs are looking at the solutions and saying, “Are they creating technology that can help me? I don’t care if I have big data—will this help my business?”
For more on Autonomy’s approach to mastering—and finding meaning and value in—structured and unstructured data, visit autonomy.com.
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