Q&A: SAS Americas EVP Carl Farrell addresses a recent IDC Canada survey that puts Canadian companies a considerable distance behind in terms of investment in and strategy for big data analytics

Canada lags in big data analytics, report says

According to a recent report from IDC Canada research director Nigel Wallis, fewer than half of Canadian companies have invested in technology for real-time processing of high volumes of data.

The survey found that only 48 per cent of companies had invested in real-time analytics software, compared to 76 per cent worldwide.
 

 

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The report also found that data management strategy was being created by mid-level IT management at 25 per cent of Canadian companies, compared to only four per cent worldwide. CEOs and CIOs  create data management strategies more commonly worldwide – in 48 per cent of companies, compared to Canada’s 33 per cent.

And while 76 per cent of Canadian companies were using internally produced data, smaller numbers were addressing other types of data – social media (33 per cent), Web data (35 per cent), RFID tags (26 per cent) and GPS (17 per cent).
 
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We discussed the survey results with Carl Farrell, executive vice-president of the Americas for SAS Institute, which sponsored the study.

ITWC: Carl, according to this survey, we are significantly behind the rest of the world, in terms of investment in technologies for processing big data. What does significant mean?

CF: I think the IDC Report suggests that Canada is out by about 20 percentage points to the rest of the world on big data strategies. For a topic as big and as large as that, that is considerable in my mind, in these days.

ITWC: What exactly is the rate of businesses that are investing in the technology?

CF: I think from the survey that we had produced; I think international organizations are something like 76 per cent. Looking at big data strategies we are only about 48 per cent of the Canadian respondents were looking at the same strategies. You can see 76 per cent to 48 per cent, there is a bit of a difference there.

ITWC: The survey revealed some issues regarding the management strategy of data. Could you address that?

CF: Yes. As I went through the survey, the one thing that struck me was that the survey indicates that Canadian organizations are delegating more than international organizations to mid-tiers of management to make key big data decisions. Again, I am seeing, certainly in my travels outside of Canada, that big data decisions and strategies are boardroom discussions today, they are not being delegated. The survey, for me, put a bit of a different context on why we are doing this more in Canada than other places.

ITWC: World-wide, it generally tends to be at the chief information officer level. How much is at the chief information officer level in Canada, and how much is at a mid-level IT manager level, in terms of creating data strategy?

CF: The survey definitely brings out, I do not have the exact percent at my fingertip, but it did bring out concretely that inside of Canada, it certainly is not at the C-level; that big data discussion is not happening at the CIO level, whereas internationally, it certainly is, more so than Canada. What it implies to me is the Canadian businesses are not viewing data as a strategic asset. It has to be at that level. The leadership of the organization has to be viewing data as a strategic and competitive asset, and we are not doing that as consistently are international companies.

ITWC: Is perhaps part of the reason is that is a lot of data that companies are collecting outside of internal data, RFID data, social networking data that is simply not being used?

CF: I think, and again, the survey brings out that Canadian organizations are more prone to use internal data, whether it is internally recorded from devices inside their own organizations, than use more data from outside their organizations. International companies seem to be more prone to want to collect and leverage social media data and other non-structured data from outside. It is a trend that needs to be broken, I think. I think as the importance goes back to Canadian leadership, we will see them move outside of traditional uses of data inside the organizations and see the opportunity within those extra non-internal sources.

ITWC: Is this just the good old-fashioned Canadian conservativeness? We tend to be 18 months behind the US in any major technological step. Does that account for us being significantly behind?

CF: I think there is a couple of things, and if I look, not knowing the exact organization surveys outside of Canada, more of an understanding of the Canadian business, the survey was from $250 million organizations and up. Canada as a market, we have a much smaller number of companies above $1 billion. I would suggest that our larger companies in Canada are doing the right things in collecting data in many different ways and leveraging that in many different ways. The bulk of our organizations are between that $250 million and $1 billion, and I think the adoption there is much slower than our international counterparts.

I think that brings into the conservatism of Canadian business. We are not the fastest ones to the leading edge, are we? We tend to wait a little bit, we tend to kick tires. We spawn a lot of innovation, but we are not spawning it, I do not think, in these areas as much as some of the organizations outside of Canada.

ITWC: I have also put it to you, and you can confirm, deny, or explain: A lot of people have told me part of the problem, and these are people who are in the industry on the vendor side, part of the problem it is all very vendor-driven at the moment. We conducted a poll on our Website regarding the use of big data, and 50 per cent of the people that we surveyed called it hype. How would you address that?

CF: I think there is always some of that going on at some level. I think the reality of our situation today is every organization, big or small, is faced with an increasing amount of data, either generated internally or they are able to access externally which is relative to their business. Social media has taken off at such a growth rate, it is growing exponentially. Whether you are retail, bank, or teleco there is a lot of superb insight in that data, social media data, which you can be using to basically make better decisions, competitive advantage, all sorts of things, we are seeing people pick up on that. Yes, there may be some hype, but the reality is that this data exists and those people who decide to use this data will get a lift on basically any of the business processes they are operating today. We, as a vendor, have got many examples of that using our technology on how to take this unstructured data and marry it with existing structure data and measure the lift. It is quite astounding, the lift you can get.

ITWC: As you said, it is a very conservative business environment in Canada. How do you address the ROI issues, because this is not going to move forward in business without a clear statement of ROI?

CF: Absolutely. I see very few people today in Canada making any level investment without a very clear payback and it is not just the payback, it is the timeframe of the payback. There has to be a very significant ROI attached to this, one which can be measured in a period of time. Again as a vendor, one of the things that we do upfront is determine if we can drive an ROI with the technology or in a particular situation for a client. If we do not see the ROI, we do not basically engage on a particular business topic area. One of the things we do, being a broader spread of an organization, globally we have the mass and analytics to bring back lots of different scenarios where we have seen this ROI, we proved the ROI, and we bring that into clients in Canada so we know at the beginning the type of things we can do to generate these ROI’s. Whether you are a small company or a large company, you still need that return on investment.

ITWC: What is the take away from this survey?

CF: I think there are some surprising things which come out of this. I think that the first message for me is that maybe a lot more of our business leaders in Canada need to be educated. That we need to get the education across at the board level, the senior level, of the benefits, whether you are in a small company or a large company, that can be got from bringing in more data sources, more unstructured data sources, in the way you run your business. I think there is a need for understanding. Organizations like yourself who write on these topics, I would encourage to keep writing on these topics to provide that level of education, and then from that to basically adopt. We need to go out inside our organizations; there is a whole new breed of research data scientists entering the marketplace. Organizations of size need more specialization, more understanding around data and these roles are emerging [inaudible: 08:51]. We are working with a number of educational bodies and count a number of universities and schools to help put the curriculum of programs in place so that we can help graduate these data scientists, I will use that term, which I am seeing being done in other countries, fairly aggressively. We need to educate the market at the board level and also get educated people into the market to take advantage from the data and the technologies.

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