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Big Data was the bottom line in Barcelona



By Brian McDonough, Discover Performance managing editor


If I had to sum up HP Discover Barcelona in one word, it would be “exhausting.” If I were to go for a word more relevant to people who aren’t me and my preferred caffeine supplier, it would be “analytics.” Big data was everywhere at this event, not only as a key business trend/challenge that attendees were actively wrestling with, but as an expression of the HAVEn Big Data platform that HP rolled out at the summer Discover event in Las Vegas. (Many of the solutions in HAVEn are relatively recent acquisitions by HP, and the ease with which ArcSight guys talked about Autonomy or Vertica, for instance, really seemed to showcase the broad power of what HP has assembled.)


The best sessions I attended were about Big Data, from the fascinating rollout of Earth Insights, to sessions that put front-line data experts onstage. I got a real sense of the continuum of Big Data growth, the procession the entire IT industry is making from “amazing new tools” to “who’s gonna work with them” to “and … now what?”


At a Big Data session with Vertica’s Colin Mahony, Dan Woicke of Cerner talked about the subtle efficiencies that can be gained from cutting-edge analytics. Cerner has moved from only summarizing such data as drug interactions, compliance requirements, and how clinicians use the electronic systems to feeding all the raw data into Hadoop, then pulling it through Vertica to understand everything, down to how long it takes a doctor to enter an order on a digital scratch pad.


He voiced a philosophy that might sum up the second wave of Big Data, after Help, I’m drowning: “We’re capturing 16 billion records every month,” he said. “Now I’ve gotta do something with this data, I’ve got to take action with it.”


At the same session, the human challenge was voiced by Alexey Blagirev of Okritie, a Russian financial services provider. Blagirev said he’s probably his country’s first chief data officer (CDO). “In Russia,” he said, “we don’t have any data scientists, and this is a problem.” Listen to tech leaders talk in America and Europe, at least, and you see that it’s often not much better elsewhere. That’s going to change more, both as data science takes off as a discipline and as analytics tools get better at letting people without Ph.D.’s pull relevant information from the frothy soup of their structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data. (Catch this entire session on video at the HP Discover site.)


Discover Performance also shot a video with Portman Wills of Game Show Network (stay tuned—we’re editing it now). Wills spoke during a session about the data-crunching success of the company’s online game site, which tracks everything from peak play times by country/time zone to how energetically users press buttons or swipe their touch screens. With all this, he said, the challenge is going to be less about gleaning the insights, and more about acting on them. (Catch the onstage video here.)


“I think that in the last five years in this Big Data space have been about the engineering—trying to build systems that scale,” he told the audience. That’s mostly been solved, he said, by fast and flexible technologies like Hadoop and Vertica: “The next five to seven years are more about what you do with that data. There’s the data science analysis piece that I’m involved with, but I think that’s also getting pretty solved. … The really hard part is, what do you do with all of that data and all those insights?”


He noted that knowing something and being able to act on it are two different things. His example was predictive analytics for when a customer’s behavior suggests he or she will stop visiting the site soon. “I can now tell you with 99.2 percent accuracy that this customer is going to churn tomorrow—today’s their last day on our product, because they have all the signals, all the signs of someone who’s gonna lapse,” he said. “What do you do with that insight?”


If there’s not a product or marketing solution to take advantage of that insight, it’s about as useful as knowing the weather on Mars. So as IT solves the challenges of extracting meaning from data, the entire business is going to have to find new ways to capitalize on those insights. Fortunately, that’s what business does best.


Events like Discover, articles on this blog and at the Discover Performance site, and discussions on LinkedIn and elsewhere are helping IT and business leaders learn from one another. If you’re looking for the next step, check out an upcoming Vertica webinar, in which GigaOm analysts and an executive from Cerner will discuss how advanced analytics are changing healthcare—one of the cutting edges of Big Data. Get the lowdown on the Jan. 23 event here. But before you go—how are you seeing the evolution of Big Data, within your industry and in the discussions within the larger enterprise IT community?


Related links:

Animal planet: HP helps turn Earth into a science project

Wait no more: In 2014, it’s analytics for everyone

HP Discover 2013 Barcelona videos: Whitman keynote, Big Data, future of the CIO—and more

HP Labs: Big Data and the future of computing

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