EMC Global Services’ Bill Schmarzo on Big Data and its ability to ‘metamorphosize’ businesses in the digital age

Clearly, in this day and age of social media and analytics, technologies surrounding Big Data have become quite the hot commodity—not exactly surprising, especially with the deluge of data the world has been consuming and dishing out in recent years.

“The digital universe,” states an IDC report commissioned by technology giant EMC, “is growing 40 percent a year into the next decade,” and this is expanding to include not only the increasing number of people and businesses doing everything online, but also in terms of smart devices connected to the Internet. “It is doubling in size every two years, and by 2020 the digital universe—the data we create and copy annually—will reach 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes,” the report furthers.

Such phenomenon will bring with it opportunities for businesses around the world—but only those who know exactly what to do with such vast amount of information would be able to leverage on the trend.

The first step, asserts Bill Schmarzo, is to forget about creating a Big Data strategy for your business. The chief technology officer of EMC Global Services’ enterprise information management and analytics service line, Schmarzo insists that organizations do not need a big data strategy. Instead, he says, “you need a business strategy that incorporates big data. When you flip that bit, it changes your perspective entirely on how you approach big data. It takes this unbounded technology debate and boils it down to the one thing that matters: how will this make [the organization] more money?”

IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO ECONOMICS

In his book “Big Data: Understanding how data powers big businesses,” Schmarzo presents EMC’s Big Data Model Maturity Index, which enables customers to understand where they are with respect to integrating data and analytics into their business operations, and gives them a roadmap for where they could be when they’ve successfully optimized and monetized the big data they have access to.

According to Schmarzo, the index comprises five phases, the first of which is the monitoring phase, where “99.5 percent of the companies I talk to—if not higher—are still in. They’re looking at data from a monitoring perspective, which is a great starting point because organizations are able to identify their key business processes, the things they do that provide differentiation.”

More than anything else, Schmarzo says that big data “is all about the economics. What that means is that the cost to manage, store and analyze data is now 20 to 50 times cheaper than it was a couple years ago. When you deal with that kind of change, it forces you to think differently about how you approach your key business processes.”

DATA WILL NOT REPLACE THINKING

When it comes to leveraging on big data, businesses would do well to remember that it isn’t exactly the amount of data that drives success. It’s the insights one teases out of this information that will lend value to an organization.

“Leverage on predictive analytics and machine learning to mine this source of data, to find things that are unusual,” advises Schmarzo.Once one is in the area of unusualness, “apply human sense to identify the things that are repeatable. Are there repeatable things going on? Because if there are, then you can find insights that will help you around improving your key business processes. You can then transition from ‘why something happened’ to ‘what should I do to take advantage of it?’”

Insights gleaned from big data help companies deliver more actionable, more relevant user experiences for customers. “You don’t monetize data—you monetize insights,” asserts Schmarzo. And it doesn’t end with the customer either. “How will you [use these insights to] empower your frontline employees to actually be more effective?”

In the end, the remarkable thing about big data is its ability to “metamorphosize” an organization. “One of the challenges of building business models is how do you ensure, drive and test it in serendipity. Models get stale if you don’t constantly tweak them. You can’t build a business model and just be done with it. Big data,” Schamrzo ends, “has the opportunity to change the metrics with which you measure success. In the end, it is more about business transformation than it is about technology.”

Published June 8, 2014 at the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

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