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Experts Blog: David Stodder

David StodderDavid Stodder is director of TDWI Research for business intelligence. He focuses on providing research-based insight and best practices for organizations implementing BI, analytics, performance management, data discovery, data visualization, and related technologies and methods. He is the author of TDWI Best Practices Reports on mobile BI and customer analytics in the age of social media, as well as TDWI Checklist Reports on data discovery and information management. He has chaired TDWI conferences on BI agility and big data analytics. Stodder has provided thought leadership on BI, information management, and IT management for over two decades. He has served as vice president and research director with Ventana Research, and he was the founding chief editor of Intelligent Enterprise, where he served as editorial director for nine years. You can reach him at dstodder@tdwi.org.

Emerging Technologies, Free of Hype

As my flight west from Orlando began its descent into San Francisco, I thought about how touching ground was a good metaphor for the just-completed TDWI World Conference. The theme of the conference was “Emerging Technologies 2014,” but one of my strongest impressions from the keynotes and sessions was the deflation of the hype surrounding those emerging technologies. Speakers addressed what’s new and exciting in business intelligence, big data, analytics, the “Internet of things,” data warehousing, and enterprise data management. However, they were careful to point out potential weaknesses in claims made by proponents of the new technologies and where spending on the new stuff just because it’s new could be an expensive mistake.

Setting the tone on Monday morning in their “Shiny Objects Show” keynote presentation, Marc Demarest and Mark Madsen debated pros and cons of new technologies, including cloud (the pursuit of “instant gratification”), in-memory computing, visualization, and Hadoop. Overall, they advised attendees to be wary of hype. “Strike out every adjective on the marketing collateral piece and see what’s left,” Demarest advised. The speakers were able to drill down to what are truly significant emerging trends, helping attendees focus on those instead of being distracted by the noise.

Evan Levy’s “Tipping the Sacred Cows of Data Warehousing” session was similarly educational. While deflating hype about various emerging technologies, Levy at the same time advised his audience to always question the value proposition of existing systems and practices to see if there might be a better way. He took particular aim at operational data stores (ODSs), noting that database and data integration technologies have matured to the point where maintaining an ODS is unnecessary.

I caught part of Cindi Howson’s session, “Cool BI: The Latest Innovations.” With guest appearances by some leading vendors to demo aspects of their products, the session covered promises and challenges inherent in several key emerging BI trends, including mobile BI, cloud BI, and visual data discovery. Cindi has just published the second edition of her book, Successful Business Intelligence, which offers a combination of interesting case studies and best practices advice to help organizations get BI projects off on the right foot and keep them going strong.

The Thursday keynote by Krish Krishnan and Fern Halper introduced TDWI’s Big Data Maturity Model Assessment Tool. Krish and Fern have been working on this project throughout 2013. It is a tool designed to help organizations assess their level of maturity across five dimensions important to realizing value from big data analytics: organization, infrastructure, data management, analytics, and governance. It is the first assessment tool of its kind. Taking such an assessment can help organizations look past the industry hype to gain a “grounded” view of where they are and what areas they need to address with better technologies and methods. Check it out!

Grounded: that’s where my plane is now, at SFO. Time to head home.

Posted on December 13, 20130 comments

Big Data Two-Step

We just concluded the TDWI Big Data Analytics Solution Summit in Austin, Texas (September 15–17). It was a great success; many thanks go to our speakers, sponsors, TDWI colleagues who managed the event, and to everyone who attended. A special thanks to Krish Krishnan, who co-chaired the conference. We are already planning the 2014 Big Data Analytics Solution Summits to be held in the spring and fall, so keep an eye out for details on these events if you are interested in attending.

In Austin, I had the chance to talk with a broad range of attendees. Some were in the early stages of planning and technology acquisition for big data analytics, while others were in the middle of ongoing, funded projects involving enterprise data warehouses, analytic platforms, Hadoop, Hive, MapReduce, and related technologies. We had data scientists and BI and data warehouse architects in attendance as well as business and IT leadership.

I heard exciting tales of initiatives driven by C-level executives who were pushing hard to gain competitive advantages by infusing new business ventures with richer data insights about customer behavior, product and service affinity, and process optimization. It was clear that in the often confusing world of big data, where organizations are on a voyage of discovery, it is a major plus to have high-level leadership that can define objectives and desired outcomes.

Briefly, here are three takeaways from the Summit:
  • Finding professionals with big data skills remains a huge challenge. In my introductory remarks at the Summit, I reported on results of our latest TDWI Technology Survey, which asked attendees at the August 2013 World Conference in San Diego to rank their big data challenges. The survey found that dealing with data variety and complexity is the biggest challenge right now, followed by data volume and data distribution. However, when I wrote the survey, I neglected to include finding skilled professionals among the challenges that attendees could rank. In conversations with Summit attendees, this was most often cited as their biggest challenge.
  • Big data analytics is about speed. In both presentations and sponsor panel discussions, “speed” was cited numerous times as the chief benefit sought from big data analytic discovery. Organizations want faster speed to insight than they are getting from traditional BI and data warehousing systems; they know that if they can apply insights about customer behavior, marketing campaign performance, projected margins, and other concerns faster, they will save their organizations money and create business advantages. David Mariani, CEO of @Scale, Inc., and former VP of engineering at the social analytics data services provider Klout, gave a great presentation that brought into focus why Hadoop has been so valuable. Mariani discussed why emerging interactive query engines like Cloudera’s Impala and Apache Shark will change the game by adding significant speed-to-insight capabilities to the Hadoop environment. 
  • Integrating data views is essential to realizing big data value. Some of the most compelling case studies at the conference were about how organizations can build profitable ventures based on a foundation of integrated data analysis. Dr. Tao Wu, lead data scientist at Nokia’s Data and Analytics organization, offered a powerful case study presentation about Nokia’s HERE business. With a centralized analytics platform rather than disconnected silos, Nokia has been able to improve products by analyzing the combination of mobile and location data.

Posted on September 24, 20130 comments

The Knee Bone's Connected to the Data Bone

Good information and analytics are vital to enabling organizations of all stripes to survive tumultuous changes in the healthcare landscape. The latest issue of TDWI’s What Works in Healthcare focuses on data-driven transformations in healthcare. I wrote an article for the issue that looks at some of the business intelligence and analytics issues surrounding the transition from a traditional, fee-for-service system to a value-based, “continuum of care” approach. One thing is clear: The importance of data and information integration as the fabric of this approach cannot be overstated.

A continuum (or “continuity”) of care is where a patient’s care experiences are connected across multiple providers: doctors, therapists, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and so on, including social programs. The traditional, fee-based approach has encouraged a disconnected experience for patients; visits to providers are mutually exclusive events and their patient data also lives in disparate silos. This disconnect increases the risk of patients getting the wrong treatments, taking medications improperly due to poor follow-up, or falling through the cracks entirely until there is an emergency. When patients only engage with healthcare when there is an emergency, costs go up. If there is poor follow-up after a hospital or emergency care visit, there is a greater likelihood that patients will have to be readmitted soon for the same problem.

Information integration plays a key role in the business model convergence that many experts envision as essential to improving care. “We see new partnerships or communities of care forming to improve collaboration across boundaries,” said Karen Parrish, IBM VP of Industry Solutions for the Public Sector during a recent conversation about IBM’s Smarter Care. IBM’s ambitious program, announced in May, “enables new business and financial models that encourage interaction among government and social programs, healthcare practitioners and facilities, insurers, employers, life sciences companies and citizens themselves,” according to the company. Improving the continuum of a particular patient’s care among these participants will require good quality data and fewer barriers to the flow of information so that the right caregivers are involved, depending on the circumstances.

At the center of this information flow must be the patient. “Access to the unprecedented amount of data available today creates an opportunity for deeper insight and earlier intervention and engagement with the patient,” said Parrish. This includes unstructured data, such as doctor’s notes. In an insightful interview with TDWI’s Linda Briggs, Ted Corbett, founder of Vizual Outcomes (and a speaker at the upcoming TDWI BI Executive Summit in San Diego) points out that while unstructured data “houses some of the richest data in the hospital system…there is little consistency across providers in note format, which makes it difficult to access this rich store of information.”

To improve the speed and quality of unstructured data analysis, IBM puts forth its cognitive computing engine Watson, which understands natural language. While Watson and cognitive computing are topics for another day, it’s clear that when we talk about information integration in healthcare, we have to remember that the vast majority of this information is unstructured. There will be increasing demand to apply machine learning and other computing power to draw intelligence from an integrated view of multiple sources of this information to improve patient care and treatment.

Posted on July 17, 20130 comments

Bringing Big Data Down to Earth

We are just weeks away from the TDWI World Conference in Chicago (May 5-10), where the theme will be “Big Data Tipping Point.” I have it on good authority that by then, the current coldness will have passed and Chicago will be basking in beautiful spring weather. (If not, as they say, wait five minutes.) The theme of the World Conference is “Big Data Tipping Point,” which means that TDWI will feature many educational sessions to help you get beyond the big data hype and learn how to apply best practices and new technologies for conquering the challenges posed by rising data volumes and increased data variety.

I would like to highlight three sessions to be held at the conference that I see as important to this objective. The first actually does not have “big data” in its description but addresses what always appears in our research as a topmost concern: data integration. In many organizations, the biggest “big data” challenge is not so much about dealing with one large source as integrating many sources and performing analytics across them. Mark Peco will be teaching “TDWI Data Integration Principles and Practices: Creating Information Unity from Data Disparity” on Monday, May 6.

On Wednesday, May 7, Dave Wells will head up “TDWI Business Analytics: Exploration, Experimentation, and Discovery.” For most organizations, the central focus of big data thinking is about analytics; business leaders want to anchor decisions in sound data analysis and use data science practices to uncover new insights in trends, patterns, and correlations. Yet, understanding analytics techniques how to align them with business demands remains a barrier. Dave Wells does a great job of explaining analytics, how the practices relate to business intelligence, and how to bring the practices to bear to solve business problems.

The third session I’d like to spotlight is “Building a Business Case for Big Data in Your Data Warehouse,” taught by Krish Krishnan. A critical starting point for big data projects and determining their relationship to the existing data warehouse is building the business case. Krish is great at helping professionals get the big picture and then see where to begin, so that you don’t get intimated by the scale. He will cover building the business case, the role of data scientists, and how next-generation business intelligence fits into the big data picture.

These are just three of the many sessions to be held during the week, on topics ranging from data mining, Hadoop, and social analytics to advanced data modeling and data virtualization. I hope you can attend the Chicago TDWI World Conference!

Posted on April 10, 20130 comments

Agile Business Intelligence in 2013

Happy New Year to the TDWI Community! As we head into 2013, it’s clear that organizations will continue to face unpredictable economic currents, requiring better intelligence and faster decision processes. TDWI has just published a new Best Practices Report that I wrote, “Achieving Greater Agility with Business Intelligence.” This report focuses on how organizations can develop and deploy BI, analytics, and data warehousing to improve flexibility and decision-making speed. I hope you can attend our upcoming Webinar presentation of the report, to be held on January 15, which will look in-depth at the research findings and offer best practices recommendations for increasing agility.

Three key areas of innovation in technologies and practices that I covered in the report will clearly be important as organizations aim for higher agility in 2013. These include the following:

Managed, self-service BI and analytic data discovery of structured and unstructured data: Decision makers are demanding tools that will allow them to access, analyze, profile, cleanse, transform, and share information without having to wait for IT. They will need access to more than just historical, structured data found in traditional systems. Unified access to both structured and unstructured data is growing in importance as decision makers seek to perform complete, context-rich analysis against big data.

New data warehousing and integration options, including virtualization: Data integration can be the source of challenging and expensive problems. Organizations are evaluating the range of options, including data federation and virtualization, that can give users managed self-service. These could allow users to work more iteratively with IT to create comprehensive views of data in place without having to physically extract and move it into an application, data mart, or specialized data store.

Agile development methods: The use of agile methods, now a mainstream trend in software development, is having an increasing impact on BI and data warehousing. Organizations are proving that they by implementing Scrum and other techniques, they can remove a good deal of the wait and waste of traditional development processes.

In the report, we found that most organizations regard their agility – that is, their ability to adjust to change and take advantage of emerging opportunities – and merely “average.” No doubt, organizations seeking new competitive advantages in 2013 will demand better than that. They will be looking to their BI, analytics, and data warehousing systems to help them become reach a higher level of agility.


Posted on January 7, 20131 comments

Spotlight on Agile Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing

Business decision cycles are turning faster, and to keep up, executives and managers are in constant need of new data and new types of reporting and analysis. Dynamic organizations are demanding greater agility from their business intelligence (BI) systems. TDWI Research is currently examining how well organizations are able to adjust their BI and data warehouse (DW) development, deployment, and management to enable greater agility.

How is your organization doing in addressing user demands for more agile BI/DW? What are your toughest challenges? We would very much like to include your opinions and insights in the TDWI Research survey, which is live right now. Thank you to everyone who has already participated in the survey. As part of my research for what will ultimately be a TDWI Best Practices Report, I am also conducting interviews with professionals to understand their experiences with agile development methods for BI/DW and with deploying self-service BI, data virtualization, and other technologies that are helping organizations become more agile. If you are interested, please drop me a line at dstodder@tdwi.org.

With survey data coming in, it’s hard not to take a peek at what we have so far. Respondents say that the business factors having the most disruptive impact, requiring greater business and IT agility, are increased competition (74%, with 20% calling it “very disruptive”), economic or global instability (68%), shorter decision cycles (65%), and technology modernization (62%). Changes in customer behavior form the fifth highest factor, with 60%. The largest percentage of respondents (45%) say that their organizations are “average” at adjusting to change and taking advantage of emerging opportunities, with 10% saying that their organization is “excellent,” 31% saying “good,” and 14% saying “poor.”

Other questions in the survey will provide data for deeper insight into where challenges are most acute in terms of BI/DW development processes and technologies. One of the biggest issues regarding agility is, of course, agile software development method adoption. Ralph Hughes, chief systems architect for Ceregenics and I will be speaking on this topic on September 20 at the upcoming TDWI World Conference in Boston. If you would like to hear a preview of what we will be talking about, including the ongoing research effort into use of agile methods, listen to our recent Webinar.

Achieving greater agility through better methods and technology is a hot area of interest in the TDWI community. Let us know your views on this important topic, both by taking the research survey and by getting in touch.


Posted on August 27, 20120 comments

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