Getting Big Data Ready

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Are you ready for big data? David Kelly of Forbes writes, “jumping on the big data bandwagon can backfire in a very expensive way without a concise blueprint for leveraging, acting on and benefitting from the information.”  So how can you start to prepare?  Today, we will look at tips for developing your strategy as well as how to prepare your team.

First, create a strategy, a clear roadmap, that defines how you plan to implement and use big data as well as what outcomes to expect. Questions to ask:

  • What are my priorities and how will big data serve those?
  • How can we test the waters before plunging in too far?
  • How will big data inform my business decisions?
  • How will my organization handle and process more data volume?
  • What technology solutions are available and what will work best?

Mr. Kelly adds, “in addition, organizations should foster an operational mindset for practicing data-based decision making. They need a company-wide culture that encourages and rewards data usage, positive outcomes and value delivered to the business.” Sujan Patel contributor to Forbes shares these tips to help prepare your team to be more data-driven:

  • Start small. Define and tackle a limited big data project to test the waters and gain experience
  • Address talent issues. Don’t wait and expect trial by fire to work itself out. Instead identify, first, where you are shorthanded in skills and experience and explore opportunities to gain the skills needed
  • Make insights useable. Ensure you produce actionable insights and be open to granting access to multiple types of users, big data just like any data must have a business value

A clear strategy and your people, just like with other business and technology initiatives these two factors are key to define and develop if you wan to turn your big data vision into a successful reality.

Tips to Unlock Big Data Insights

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It is common, according to Bernard Marr of IBM’s Big Data Hub blog, to think that big data success is only about size.  Mr. Marr  points out, “By simply focusing on the size of your data you run the risk of becoming data rich and insight poor. You have huge volumes of information at your fingertips, but no idea what it all means or what to do with it.”  To benefit from  big data you have to gain valuable insights that transform your business, not just amass more data.

Mr. Marr outlines his five-step “Smart Data Framework” to help you best unlock big data insights:

  • Start with a strategy. Determine the problems you want to solve with big data and define the specific questions you have and the data you need to answer
  • Measure metrics and data. Determine where and how you can collect the data you need.
  • Apply analytics. Much of the growth in big data is fueled by unstructured data which can be “messy.” Today there are a number of tools out there that you can use to manage unstructured data
  • Report results. Tell a story suggests Mr. Marr, “if you use data visualization and narratives to tell that story in a focused and interesting way, it’s far more likely people will understand what you are trying to do, and be as motivated as you are yourself about implementing data-driven change.”
  • Transform your business. Keep in mind that change is the end goal and the data is there to help lead the charge

Notice how if you take the first letter from every bullet above you get the word SMART. Just like with data analysis and storage of the past, today, “smart” use of data whether big or small continues to be important.

Do you want to gain more big data experience and discuss the infrastructure considerations for your business in a Hadoop cluster environment? Join us April 23rd for our Big Data Hands-on Workshop with the Evolving Solutions technical team and experts from IBM.

Industry News Round-up: Next-Gen Big Data Analytics

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To keep you on top of the latest and greatest big data technology news, we’ve rounded-up a list of topics in the news. First, read about key priorities that will help facilitate next-generation big data analytics, then why big data can help non-profits and, finally, big data and Oscar picks.

The Big 4 Priorities for Next-Gen Big Data

Scott Gnau of Forbes writes about preparing for the future of big data, “specific advice is tricky, given the variety of applications and use cases out there. So here’s my own attempt to distill things down to four priorities when implementing tomorrow’s big data architectures. Don’t think of these as separate buckets, though. Consider them more like a set of closely interrelated priorities, like signposts along the road to success in creating your own next generation analytics.”  With big data changing fast, he recommends keeping these priorities in mind:

  • Flexibility
  • Access
  • Governance
  • Context

Flexible architectures will help you handle the diverse nature of big data.  Providing access  not only to the data scientists but also to business users is important. When you empower more people, you also need to have governance in place to regulate. Finally, context not only to keep data clean but in some cases protect data privacy.

Big Data and Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations are also looking to use big data reports Ricky Rlbelro for BizTech Magazine.  Nonprofits can not only utilize big data to build and retain membership or to find and attract new donors, but they can also use big data to determine how their services are being perceived in the public and potentially spot issues before they become too big.

Big Data’s Oscar Picks

So the Oscars have wrapped up for another year. We can debate the merits of the winners and wonder why others didn’t make the cut, but how did big data do with its predictions this year. Steven Zeitchik and Oliver Gettell report for the LA Times, “in recent years, Big Data has attempted to turn art into science. This year such efforts are more prolific than ever — and more relevant, with the battle for best picture.” All three of the data companies interviewed for the article had “Birdman” in the lead for Best Picture which did in fact win. The companies took different approaches. One analyzed the voting body and others used combinations of data from past award ceremonies for their predictions. Just another example of how big data is growing in use – mixing art and science in this case.

Industry News Round-up: Big Data and Automakers

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To keep you on top of the latest and greatest big data technology news, we’ve rounded-up a list of topics in the news this week. First, read about how automakers would like to use big data and then is it SQL or no SQL – that is the question.

Ford Jumps on the Big Data “Wagon”
Larry Dignan for ZDNet reports on a recent keynote address by Ford CEO Mark Fields at CES 2015. Turns out Ford is looking for new  and innovative ways to utilize the data it collects.

Mr. Dignan writes, “Ford is obviously aiming beyond the vehicle cockpit. Ford is aiming to become the Apple of the auto industry. It’s not the hardware or software that makes the sale. It’s the integration and intelligence between the hardware and software.”  He also adds Ford is a good example of how every company is turning into a technology company due to data, big data.  Ford has started to experiment with the massive vehicle and driver data it collects. Early plans include analyzing car sharing, vehicle intelligence, driving patterns and insurance to not only improve vehicle automation but also to create smarter roads and cities.

Mr. Dignan notes one challenge that Ford will face in these new initiatives will be connecting big data to the human experience.  What do you think?

Big Data Flip Flop – SQL

Bill Franks writes for Forbes about the current debate buzzing around SQL and non-relational tools.  He sees both SQL and non-relational working side by side in a balanced approach as the best way to approach big data, “Where we will all land is a balanced approach where SQL remains a critical tool for analyzing data, and non-relational analysis is also utilized when appropriate. After all, the goal should always be to solve our business problems in the most efficient way possible.”

He also underscores that non-relational tools are not new.  His opinion is that many businesses just went too far with SQL trying to make it fit every situation. “Just keep in mind that non-relational options have always been available. It isn’t that there was no need for non-relational processing during the first decade of the 21st century.  Rather, companies moved too far toward SQL.  In a case of massive opinion flip-flop, there is now a large movement to enable SQL-like functionality on a wide variety of non-relational platforms, such as Hadoop.”

How does your company use SQL and non-relational tools to answer business questions? Share your thoughts on this debate.

Innovate in 2015 with Big Data

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“When it comes to big data, organizations are feeling the need for speed. Using the cloud as a platform for innovation, companies are rolling out big data and analytics technologies not simply to transform how they engage with customers, but to change how their businesses do business,” writes Glenn Finch on Forbes.

As 2015 gets started how does your company plan to use big data to drive business results? Mr. Finch provides the following insights when it comes to getting started on a big data analytics project:

Big data is not just about your customers it is also about your operations.  40% of the companies surveyed by IBM reported using big data and analytics to manage operations and back office functions more effectively. Mr. Finch points to a healthcare industry example where IBM’s Watson analytics are helping nurses make better decisions.

The payback on investment is quicker than expected.  An IBM study found that 63% of companies surveyed saw a return on their investment within one year and 26% even saw a payback within six months. These findings may be surprising but not so considering the daily news stories about the industry-changing results of well-executed big data projects.

Think beyond volume. In 2015 companies will not solely look to big data to help sort through the volume of data that is collected and stored. Instead, big data will be used as a tool to pull insights quickly to further a company’s competitive edge in the marketplace. As Mr. Finch writes, “velocity, not volume, is driving the impact of big data.”

According to the article, IBM expects demand for data-driven insights to accelerate in 2015. Mr. Finch adds, “big data is providing precise, real-time insight into everything from inventory to sales to employee performance to customer needs. To compete, other organizations need to move from gathering data to quickly acting on insight provided by the data.”

Big Data and Healthcare

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Big data is not just a fad technology. It is being used in real industries every day to solve problems and improve processes. Information Week recently reported on examples of big data use in healthcare. Let’s take a look:

  • In Pittsburgh, a university’s health plan now uses 6.3 terabytes of data to forecast patient behavior to help provide better preventative care and to better utilize hospital resources.
  • In Jersey City, New Jersey, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have been able to improve response rates to less than six minutes (average nationwide is eight minutes, 59 seconds). Their big data systems have allowed them to analyze calls with time of day and geography to better position EMS teams and vehicles.
  • A clinic based in Virginia has worked together with IBM to examine electronic medical records to help identify patients who are at risk for heart disease.  Using both structured and unstructured data, the pilot program was able to achieve 85% accuracy in detecting the medical problem.

What uses of big data are you seeing in your own healthcare and community-wide?

IBM Power8 – The Difference

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Power8 systems have 50% more cores and 2x the number of threads reports IBM Systems Magazine in a May article. The article walks through a Q&A with IBM Power Systems General Manager Dough Balog about the new advancement.

Working across business disciplines, IBM announced in April what they label as “game-changing first generation” power systems. The new Power systems are designed with CAMS – cloud, analytics, mobile and social – in mind. IBM Power8 is also “the most open server platform on the market now” and changes the way that IBM can deliver value to different businesses.

How does Power8 bring more big data capabilities? At a basic level big data requires:

  • More compute power to run more algorithms
  • More memory to calculate and manipulate data
  • More I/O to successfully process data in and out quickly

Mr. Balog says Power8 takes “every one of those basic principles of compute, memory, I/O and storage, and have dramatically—in orders of magnitude—increased them. We’ve [IBM Power8 Systems] got 50 percent more cores, twice the number of threads, and then you add some of the innovative capability from OpenPOWER on top of that and it takes it up even greater.”  He adds, “that’s why we say that these systems are built with the open innovation to put data to work.” More specifically, Power8:

  • Chips contain up to 12 processor cores per socket
  • Technology supports SMT8, eight simultaneous threads of execution per core
  • Cache has more on-chip cache than POWER7 and  introduces 128 MB of off-chip cache
  • Bandwidth has double sustained memory and peak I/O over POWER7

Evolving Solutions has become the first IBM Business Partner to install the brand new IBM Power8 server technology in our on-site technology lab. Read the announcement.

Contact us today to talk more about how Power8 is changing the data world.

Real-Life Big Data Examples

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Big Data is big news! Especially with the release of IBM’s new Power Systems Servers built with Power8 Processors, big data information is all around us. Today, let’s take a look at several examples of how big data is used to solve real business problems and improve business operations.

First up from a recent Forbes article, manufacturing and industry are using the power of big data to perform “predictive machine maintenance” to not only better manage machine parts and supplies, but also to help mitigate time down on production lines and sometimes even improve safety. Hospitals are also using big data to track medical devices and improve asset utilization. It can also allow them to more quickly respond to sudden spikes in activity.

A team from Syracuse University is using big data to analyze consumer home energy use and how this use impacts the power grid, “the research ultimately has the potential to launch industry-wide changes in the way consumers use and pay for energy, how utilities plan for peak-use issues, and how the electrical grid system can be optimized.”

Wired reported recently on McDonald’s use of big data, “the fast food chain uses big data analytics to optimize the drive-thru experience based on three factors: design, information provided on the menu and the types of customers coming through. Looking for trends in increased consumer demand, such as large cars of customers coming through, can be particularly beneficial for improving efficiency and preparing for that spike in demand ahead of time.”

Share how big data could give you an edge.

Frame Up Your Big Data Strategy

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For many the thought of massive amounts of unstructured data mixed with structured to drive business insights is overwhelming. As a small to mid-sized business you may already be dabbling in the big data world, but not using the insights. David Williams of Forbes Magazine provides tips to help small businesses and entrepreneurs frame up their big data strategy:

  • Organize your data. The first step but perhaps the most complicated.  Start today to centralize, catalog and prioritize the data you collect.
  • Collect more data. Do you have more opportunities to collect data on your customers? Mr. Williams writes, “If it doesn’t hurt your organization to just add 2-3 more columns of information you collect about a customer, DO IT!”
  • Utilize public data. The government is making more and more data public for small business use. A few examples include housing records, demographics, crime, census and salary figures.
  • Ask the right questions. Once you have your data organized. What kinds of business questions do you have? What problems would you like to solve? Can your data set provide the insight you need.

Analyzing the data is perhaps another hurdle to a big data strategy. Don’t have the expertise on staff? Look for an outside, technology partner or Mr. Williams suggests talk to a local community college or university for opportunities to pair up with professors who could use your problem as a teaching opportunity for their students.

Mr. Williams points out, “Data is neutral and provides a foundation of facts to make effective, smart decisions. This data needs to be used to help your profitability and your strategy, no matter how big or how small you plan to use it to inform your organization.”

Share how you use data to make better business decisions.

MinneAnalytics: Data Tech 2019

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We are so excited to once again be part of the popular practitioner’s field guide to analytics and emerging tech, returning Normandale Partnership Center for its fifth straight year on May 30. While this event is sold-out, we are excited to explore AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, NLP, Robotic Process Automation, Graph Technologies, and much more. Keep checking our LinkedIn Page and Blog for a recap of the day’s activities, including information on what we learned.