Getting a jump on Big Data

ORLANDO — Run-intensive analytic tasks that used to take hours or days can now be run in a couple of minutes. At the Premier Business Leadership Series behind held here this week, SAS announced its High-Performance Analytics, which can handle terabytes of data in near real-time.

Available in mid-December, High-Performance Analytics will meld SAS’s analytics technology with in-memory processing on Teradata or EMC Greenplum database appliances.

“That’s what we’re starting to think about with Big Data, doing things closer to real time,” said James Adamczyk, CTO of Accenture Software.

Most companies have decided what data they want to use for analytics, and that’s the only data they use. Now there’s a need to do real-time analytics against both structured and unstructured data.

“With this notion of linking into social media and other forms of data, when a customer links to your Facebook page, now you’ve got data that you didn’t have anything to do with,” said Adamczyk.

The next step is overlaying this data and mining it. “I don’t know of a lot of companies that have really thought that through about how they’re going to do that,” he said.

Of 258 North American business leaders surveyed by the Accenture SAS Analytics Group, 72 per cent indicated they would increase spending on business analytics in 2012 compared to 2011, although 60 per cent said they are missing the right analytical business skills, technical skills or both, and just 22 per cent said their analytics are integrated across their entire organization.

About two-thirds of organizations are “data wasters” and not using the full potential of their data, said Michael Singer, senior editor of technology with the Economist Intelligence Unit. Typically, this is because they’re looking at the same types of information; those who’ve overcome this have figured out how to integrate their data and coming at it from a different perspective.

Added to this quagmire of Big Data is machine-to-machine data, such as sensor networks. “They can’t get number crunching done fast enough,” said Singer. “The problem is they’re collecting almost too much data, they don’t want to throw anything out, but there’s this huge long tail of information that most companies are still struggling with.”

Big Data is really about unlocking business value from the vast amount of unstructured and multi-structured data out there.

“It’s exciting in a lot of ways, but we’re all trying to make sense of it,” said Maura Hart, CIO of Winn-Dixie. “Our leadership team certainly sees the business value from the investments we’ve made to date and the importance of analytics in our business, but there’s a change in how we need to react.” Internal customers want data as near real time as they can get, she said.

Her team is focusing on integration, working with the enterprise to allow that data to flow in near real-time. “A few years ago we were talking about self-service BI, allowing users to do some ad hoc analysis,” said Hart. “That’s not enough anymore; it just keeps growing. Part of the challenge is how do you intermingle transactional data in the data warehouse along with some of this unstructured data?”

Marriott International is starting to make inroads in this area, investing in tools to weed out business value from vast amounts of structured and unstructured data. It’s also dealing with the challenge of mobility.

At the start of 2010, the Marriott had no bookings through the iPad. Now, half its bookings on mobile devices are through the iPad.

“With mobile devices, it’s a smaller percentage of revenue, but growth is 300 per cent annually,” said Mike Keppler, senior vice-president of global sales marketing and revenue management systems with Marriott International.

“When we designed, it has always been about someone sitting at their PC or laptop and planning their travel or booking, but the reality now is if guests are in the middle of Times Square, we’re with them wherever they go,” said Keppler.

Internally, that changes all of your design processes, he said. Now you’re designing for travelers on the road; people are booking rooms 48 hours out on mobile devices.

“While you’re working out all of your analytics, you also have to work out how to get your team focused on the change in customer experience and types of functionality you’re going to put out,” he said.

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