It Really Is All About the Data, and Then Some

Information On Demand 2013 shines a spotlight on big data, analytics, and the transformation of IT

“Data is the new oil,” “data is transforming business,” and other such phrases have been heard before at IT industry conferences. They prognosticate cutting-edge technologies on the horizon that promise to bring dramatic change or paradigm shifts. Though well intended, these proclamations frequently do not resonate much beyond the splashy general sessions. In reality, game-changing technologies can be slow to take shape or end up absorbed into other technologies or approaches. A few never really get off the ground.

Information On Demand (IOD) 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada, told a different, very compelling story. Volumes of customer use cases; business partner testimonials; EXPO demonstrations; research, statistics, and test results; and technology enhancement announcements contributed to a palpable air of significant business and IT transformation that is fueling innovation in a new economy. (For a discussion of analytics-powered process engines as one example, see the first installment of James Kobielus’s two-part column, “Recommendations Galore.”)

Even casual conversations with attendees as well as opinions shared by presenters and participants in selected elective sessions, panels, Q&As, and other events emphasized the transformation that big data and analytics is bringing to a wide swath of industries. An IBM software salesperson, for example, said that in his more than 30 years in the business he has been hearing how data will transform business, but real transformation never seemed as significant as promised. Drawing on recent professional experiences over the last couple of years and his observations thus far at IOD 2013, however, he admitted that from his perspective a considerable transformation now feels quite tangible.


Big data from a deeper level

The scale of IOD 2013 reflected the enormity of big data, the expanding variety of data sources, and the velocity at which data is captured, stored, and in demand by line-of-business users. Attendees had access to a wide range of perspectives on data and the many ways it is manifesting transformation in healthcare, science, education, government, and other industries and sectors.

And at the core of all this discussion on big data is the data itself. One eye-opening example was an evening debate at a “birds-of-a-feather” session on whether data is an asset for enterprises and organizations. It developed into a spirited discussion highlighting several insightful and philosophical viewpoints. Some supported the view that data alone did not constitute any real value beyond the cost of the storage it resided on and the real value was the delivery or usage of the information gleaned from the data. Others believed that data repositories do in fact have real value just like facilities, hardware, and other physical assets. While the debate over data’s value offered a range of perspectives and will certainly continue in many forums, it did confirm that data plays a multifaceted, complex role in this era of big data.

And this debate also confirms that a lot of very smart people are engaged in making sense of harnessing the power of unstructured data. In fact, the need for data management professionals with the skill sets necessary to achieve insight from big data and analytics was another important theme at IOD 2013. As increasing numbers of organizations implement big data initiatives, they are expected to fill this skills gap with data scientists who can free IT professionals to focus on their core responsibilities. And in parallel, a growing number of chief data officers (CDOs) will likely be joining executive C-suites in the coming years.


Technology enhancements behind the messaging

The Information Management forum at IOD 2013 provided an extensive look at the latest enhancements to its suite of offerings that continue to evolve the build-out of a flexible foundation for supporting mission-critical applications. As mentioned in the Information Management keynote at IOD 2013, the time consumers are willing to wait for information has now undeniably diminished to immediately, and they want it on any device, at any time, and from anywhere. As a result, the consumerization of IT and democratization of information also contribute to the transformation of IT dynamics.

Some industries are feeling the pressure to transform their processes now. The healthcare industry is one example. In another casual conversation with an IBM sales representative who primarily services healthcare organizations, he said that many of his clients are now deeply committed to understanding how to work with unstructured data. They need to get up to speed on analytics initiatives rapidly, especially to prepare themselves for the many changes they are now experiencing in that industry.

Other industries such as retail are developing advanced mobile commerce and online business models. Telecommunications providers need to understand interactivity inside their mobile networks to transform customer experience management and respond to delivering quality of service. (For another perspective on this industry, see the article, “Speaking a Common Language ,” that discusses how telecommunications executives can use big data and analytics to align business objectives.)

At IOD 2013, speed, simplicity, and confidence were mentioned as core attributes underlying recent enhancements to information management technologies. IBM® Cognos® business intelligence (BI) software and IBM DB2® with BLU Acceleration data management running on IBM Power Systems™ servers offer an on-premises solution for rapid capture and access of data from a range of business processes. It utilizes features such as real-time and in-memory technologies, compression, and data skipping. An early access preview of BLU Acceleration for the cloud was announced as an integrated solution that provides powerful, simple, agile warehousing, and self-service reporting and analytics with Cognos BI deployed on either IBM Softlayer® or Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Turning to transaction processes, continued growth of transaction volume is rapidly migrating from personal interactions to online interactions, and expanded mobility is pushing systems to their limits. The release of IBM Information Management System (IBM IMS™) 13 is designed to address this growth by achieving unprecedented transactions per second. Look for an upcoming article in IBM Data magazine that will provide details of enhanced features in the latest release of IMS.

Also announced at IOD 2013 was the recent acquisition of The Now Factory. The Now Factory software is designed to deliver real-time analytics that help communications service providers accelerate insight for network and subscriber data, enhance network efficiency, and help improve customer service by understanding usage patterns.

Agile governance enhances the IBM InfoSphere® Master Data Management solution with data monitoring and masking in a single package that helps instill confidence when experimenting in spaces that have little or no security or governance. InfoSphere Governance Catalog software enables looking at all available big data sources, determining how to instrument them, and figuring out where all the right data sources are needed to drive the analytics for solving business problems. It also helps organizations understand data lineage, who is using the data, and the context in which it is being used.


Innovation in the coming year

IOD 2013 delivered an extensive conference experience that offered a comprehensive presentation of the many technologies impacting IT. As ongoing IBM research and innovation unfolds in 2014 and the big data and analytic transformation evolves, there will no doubt be abundant new content for next year’s conference. Until then, look for a steady stream of fresh content in IBM Data magazine that continues to document the evolution of data management technologies. And if there are any areas where you’d like to see coverage expanded or improved, please share your thoughts in the comments.