Archive for category Information Integration

Looking for the Small in Big Data

While the buzz in the big data market is around massive amounts of data and what you can do with that data, in truth companies are more interested in the small stuff. Let me explain. One of the greatest benefits of getting hold of lots of data is that a company can see patterns and anomalies that would have gone undetected with a smaller set of data.

Companies are interested in big data not so much because of what that data represents in terms of volume, variety and velocity, but what the analysis of that data can do for the business. As business decision makers begin to recognize the potential of big data, they realize that the biggest insights and hidden gems of knowledge are found when big data actually becomes quite small. However, the analysis must start with very large volumes of data. Exploring the world of big data takes business leaders beyond the data found in their organization’s traditional databases. Researchers, data scientists, and marketers, are analyzing very large volumes of unstructured data from previously untapped sources such as e-mails, customer service records, sensor data, and security logs.

Now that companies have the ability to deal with so much more data, they are free to incorporate a greater variety of data into the mix. For example, they are incorporating social media, mobile phone location, traffic, and weather data into more traditional analysis. But what is the goal? Add more data and more elements so that those patterns emerge. Armed with the insight from analysis, business leaders can take a more precise set of data and compare it to data from a data warehouse or a system of record. As a result, the research becomes more targeted and directed to fit in with the context of the business.

Why do companies need to take this targeted approach to leveraging big data? In essence, companies want to use big data analysis to make a personalized offer that is just right for the customer when that customer is ready to buy. In some cases, the answer may be related not to selling but to diagnosing problems with a manufacturing system or a patient with an unexplained illness.

How do you move from big data analysis to small data insights and personalized action? You need to consider three elements: defining your business problem, defining and analyzing your data sources, and integrating and incorporating your big data analysis with your operational data.

Defining your business problem. Companies are beginning to ask the traditional questions about customers, products, and partners in new ways. For example, are you looking to manage your customer interactions armed with in-depth and customized knowledge about each individual customer? Companies with a focus on driving continuous improvement in customer service are asking, “How can I delight this customer and anticipate their specific needs?” These are important goals for businesses competing in today’s fast-paced, mobile-driven market.

Defining and analyzing your data sources. What information do you need to make the right offer to your buyer when he deciding on a purchase? What information can you glean from outside sources such as social media data? What big data sources do you have available internally that were previously underutilized? For example, can you use text analytics to gain new insight about customers from call center notes, emails, and voice recordings? One important goal with big data analytics is to look for patterns and relationships that apply to your business and narrow down the data set based on business context. Your big data analysis will help you find the small treasures of information in your big data.

Integrating and incorporating the analysis of you big data with your operational data.
After your big data analysis is complete, you need an approach that will allow you to integrate or incorporate the results of your big data analysis into your business process and real-time business actions. This will require some adjustment to the conventional notion of data integration. In order to bring your big data environments and enterprise data environments together, you will need to incorporate new methods of integration that support Hadoop and other nontraditional big data environments. In addition, if you want to incorporate the results of very fast streaming data into your business process, you will need advanced technology that enables you to make decisions in real-time.

Ultimately, if you want to make good decisions based on the results of your big data analysis you need to deliver information at the right time and with the right context. In order to make the results of your analysis actionable, you need to focus more on the small – targeted and personalized results of big data – than on the large data volumes.


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IBMs Vision for Analytics in the Midmarket: gaining deeper business insight

I recently attended an IBM analyst meeting focused on solutions for the midmarket.  What caught my attention was the focus on analytics as an important and growing revenue opportunity for IBM.  In fact, IBM mentioned during the meeting that 70 percent of midsized firms are looking for analytics solutions.  It is clear from this meeting that IBM wants to bring a comprehensive set of analytical tools to the midsize companies.  Unlike some of IBM’s packaging, analytics tools are being packaged specifically for the midmarket so that they can be more consumable and affordable.

Analytics is fast becoming a high priority for companies as a result of the explosion in the variety, velocity, and volume of data with a potential impact on business decision-making. Much of this data is unstructured, such as the text included in customer service records, customer sentiment data in social media, or streams of data from instrumented devices.  Making good business decisions  often requires analysis across multiple sources and types of data.  Companies often have independent systems designed to manage business processes ranging from order/inventory to point of sales, marketing research, and customer relationship management. The challenge for many of these companies is that answering the most urgent questions about the business requires analysis across all of these independent systems. Even a small company with a few hundred employees may have a dozen systems are are disconnected and keep the company from having a full picture of the business.

Therefore, it is not surprising that some midsize companies are finding they can benefit from business analytics solutions. Yet, while some midsize companies are finding ways to get the answers they want using analytics, the word needs to spread to other companies still struggling with manual spreadsheet analysis that doesn’t go deep enough.

IBM is going to market through its business partners that typically support midsize companies with a variety of solutions. These business partners are being asked by their clients in the midmarket to help them implement technology solutions that will enable them to make smarter business decisions. They want to find new ways to deeper their understanding of customer expectations and priorities. For example, a midsize retailer might be trying to figure out why certain products are returned while others sell well.  The analytics market offers huge opportunity for IBM and its partners.

The approach IBM is taking with analytics for the mid-market is to offer its partners a pre-configuration of hardware and software into a single system at a price point  that is both affordable for midsized companies, but also has enough of a margin to make it attractive to a partner channel.

However, the challenge for partners is to change the traditional way they have gone to market.  Many partners that have built successful businesses by specializing in hardware sales or a specific category of software such as IBM  Rational find that they need to meet a broader set of client requirements.  They now need to both learn the new analytics products and be ready to sell and implement solutions differently.  Selling analytics to the mid market requires much more than a technical sell. Partners need to have a thorough understanding of the business context in which the analytics will be used to help customer visualize the potential business value.

One of IBM’s offerings that partners should be looking at is  the IBM Smart Analytics System 5710, which is a database appliance for business intelligence and data analytics targeted at the SMB market. The IBM Smart Analytics System 5710 is based on IBM System x, runs Linux, and includes InfoSphere Warehouse Departmental Edition and Cognos 10 Business Intelligence Reporting and Query.  The system is designed to enable partners to get their clients up and running very quickly a broad set of  analytics and business intelligence capabilities. I expect that you will see a lot more of this type of packaging from IBM with collaboration from its solution business partners.

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What happens when your BI vendor gets acquired?

With all of the acquisitions happening in the business intelligence space, customers are in a state of confusion. What do all of these changes mean — both short term and long term? In my view, it is best to take a pragmatic approach to this changing market landscape. This acquisition spree in BI is impacting as many as 80,000 customers who use business intelligence software from Hyperion, Business Objects, or Cognos. What should customers be asking their vendors about the future directions of their products? All three BI vendors have either just been acquired or are soon to be acquired by three large IT companies – Oracle, SAP, and IBM, respectively. Is it business as usual or do the IT managers need to alter their business relationships and plans for business intelligence implementations now that a wave of consolidation is underway?

Customer concerns about the re-alignment in the business intelligence area tend to fall into three categories: impact on legacy environments, impact on future buying decisions, and technical innovation. Management issues will vary with how business intelligence software has been deployed at their companies and how well integrated this software has been with other information management software.

Legacy environments. Many companies tend to use BI tools for traditional management reporting. In general, they like to stick with what they know and what their users are trained to use. Therefore, they want to be assured that they can continue using the familiar reporting tools in the same way. While most managers assume that once an acquisition is complete, there will be new operating efficiencies. What they don’t always know is whether those efficiencies will translate to savings. They also would like to understand how the company might benefit from the fact that a larger company with more resources has bought the company they have been dealing with. How will my company benefit from the acquisition? Will there be any changes in the sales and service teams? What about pricing issues and planned upgrades?

Typically, it will take a while before changes are evident. For example, if you are getting good value from your use of Crystal Reports—the Business Objects’ reporting solution designed to support business modeling, analysis, and decision making – it really may not matter to you which company purchased Business Objects.

Ironically, some of the most important issues that might emerge happen when customers merge with each other. For example, one company might have standardized on Cognos for its analysis and reporting while the company being acquired uses Business Objects as a standard. Since large enterprises rely on business intelligence software to gain insight into production, sales, revenue, or other data across divisions and subsidiaries, too many tools may make decision making more difficult.

It is interesting that these acquisitions are hitting the market at the same time that companies are trying to move from a departmental view of data to an enterprise perspective. A unified and standardized approach to information management across the enterprise is becoming a top priority. Companies that have accumulated many different BI vendor software may use this time of change to re-evaluate a BI strategy.

Typically companies are used to managing multiple software components from multiple vendors. The expectation is that the consolidation of two or more of a single vendor will lead to benefits resulting from the tighter integration of the products. This is often the best outcome in terms of support, training, and management. However, this is typically a multi-year effort by the vendors building a unified portfolio based on acquired software. As businesses move from a traditional siloed single purpose data warehouse to information integration and analytics, having one vendor to call is often a welcome change as companies try to simplify the management of its infrastructure.

Impact on Future Buying Decisions

The situation may be a little different if a customer is in the middle of a proof of concept (POC) for a project designed to develop a single view of a company’s customer base. How will the recent acquisitions in the business intelligence market impact how businesses to move forward?

Consider the example of a large bank that had recently made a significant acquisition. The bank wanted to understand its most profitable customers across the newly merged company. Customer history and sales data was retained in a siloed manner by line of business and there was no integration between the data for the two companies. This company used Cognos for many of their executive level reports, but now management had raised concerns about data quality.

In order to develop a single view of customer they needed to look for incompatibilities and inconsistencies in the disparate data sources. These data sources needed to be integrated and IT needed to assure the business that the information was accurate, complete, and trust worthy. The bank selected Informatica to provide the software needed to help with the integration and to improve the quality of its data.

Informatica has a comprehensive solution for data integration and data quality. In addition, just a few months ago Informatica and Cognos announced an expansion of their strategic relationship. This partnership fit well into the CIO’s priority to consolidate all the many disconnected vendors in use in IT and to ensure that the integrations between different applications are as tightly integrated as possible. Now, suddenly Cognos is part of IBM and a direct competitor to Informatica. What should the CIO do? Certainly IBM is committed to supporting all of Cognos’ existing partnerships. You should not have to change your plans because of the acquisition, however there are questions to ask about how things will change in the future.


All the BI vendors mentioned above have well-established partner relationships with emerging information management software companies. There has been a lot of customer support for the creation of tighter integrations between the information management infrastructure and the business intelligence layer. Companies have recognized that the reporting structure becomes meaningless if the supporting data cannot be trusted.

The partnerships have been important because much of the important innovation comes from small emerging companies. Partnerships with major players makes it easier for the company to leverage innovation with lower risk. The established players can provide the integration with the analytics and reporting technology. As companies attempt to unlock much of the data that has been previously unreachable at the enterprise level, it will become much more important to have a unified approach to information quality, information integration, and business intelligence. Market consolidation will help ensure that innovation is better utilized in a predictable manner.
























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