Category Archives: big data

IBM’s cognitive, AI and ML with @bigdata_paulz at BigDataTO

I’ve been passing on a lot of conferences lately – just too many trips to Vegas for my liking, and insufficient value for my time – but tend to drop in on ones that happen in Toronto, where I live. This week, it’s Big Data Toronto, held in conjunction with Connected Plus and AI Toronto.

Paul Zikopoulos, VP of big data systems at IBM gave a keynote on what cognitive, AI and machine learning mean to big data. He pointed out that no one has a problem collecting data – all companies are pros at that – but the problem is knowing what to do with it in order to determine and act on competitive advantage, and how to value it. He talked about some of IBM’s offerings in this area, and discussed a number of fascinating uses of AI and natural language that are happening in business today. There are trendy chatbot applications, such as Sephora’s lipstick selection bot (upload your selfie and a picture of your outfit to match to get recommendations and purchase directly); and more mundane but useful cases of your insurance company recommending that you move your car into the garage since a hailstorm is on the way to your area. He gave us a quick lesson on supervised and unsupervised learning, and how pattern detection is a fundamental capability of machine learning. Cognitive visual inspection – the descendent of the image pattern analysis algorithms that I wrote in FORTRAN about a hundred years ago – now happens by training an algorithm with examples rather than writing code. Deep learning can be used to classify pictures of skin tumors, or learn to write like Ernest Hemingway, or auto-translate a sporting event. He finished with a live demo combining open source tools such as sentiment analysis, Watson for image classification, and a Twitter stream into a Bluemix application that classified pictures of cakes at Starbucks – maybe not much of a practical application, but you can imagine the insights that could be extracted and analyzed in the same fashion. All of this computation doesn’t come cheap, however, and IBM would love to sell you a few (thousand) servers or cloud infrastructure to make it happen.

After being unable to get into three breakout sessions in a row – see my more detailed comments on conference logistics below – I decided to head back to my office for a couple of hours. With luck, I’ll be able to get into a couple of other interesting sessions later today or tomorrow.

A huge thumbs down to the conference organizers (Corp Agency), by the way. The process to pick up badges for pre-registered attendees was a complete goat rodeo, and took me 20+ minutes to simply pick up a pre-printed badge from a kiosk; the person staffing the “I-L” line started at the beginning of the Ks and flipped his way through the entire stack of badge to find mine, so it was taking about 2 minutes per person in our line while the other lines were empty. The first keynote of the day, which was only 30 minutes long, ran 15 minutes late. The two main breakout rooms were woefully undersized, meaning that it was literally standing room in many of the sessions – which I declined to attend because I can’t type while standing – although there was a VIP section with open seats for those who bought the $300 VIP pass instead of getting the free general admission ticket. There was no conference wifi or charging stations for attendees. There was no free water/coffee service (and the paid food items didn’t look very appetizing); this is a mostly free conference but with sponsors such as IBM, Deloitte, Cloudera and SAS, it seems like they could have had a couple of coffee urns set up for free under a sponsor’s name. The website started giving me an error message about out of date content every time I viewed it on my phone; at least I think it was about out of date content, since it was inexplicably only in French. The EventMobi conference app was very laggy, and was missing huge swaths of functionality if you didn’t have a data connection (see above comments about no wifi or charging stations). I’ve been to a lot of conference, and the logistics can really make a big difference for the attendees and sponsors. In cases like this, where crappy logistics actually prevent attendees from going to sessions that feature vendor sponsor speakers (IBM, are you listening?), it’s inexcusable. Better to charge a small fee for everyone and actually have a workable conference.

PegaWorld 2015 Day 2 Customer Keynotes: Big Data and Analytics at AIG and RBS

After the futurist view of Brian Solis, we had a bit more down-to-earth views from two Pega customers, starting with Bob Noddin from AIG Japan on how to turn information that they have about customers into an opportunity to do something expected and good. Insurance companies have the potential to help their customers to reduce risk, and therefore insurance claims: they have a lot of information about general trends in risk reduction (e.g., tell an older customer that if they have a dog and walk it regularly, they will stay healthier and live longer) as well as customer-specific actions (e.g., suggest a different route for someone to drive to work in order to reduce likelihood of accident, based on where they live and work, and the accident rates for the roads in between). This is not a zero-sum game: fewer claims is good for both AIG and the customers. Noddin was obviously paying close attention to Solis, since he wove elements of that into his presentation in how they are engaging customers in the way that the customer chooses, and have reworked their customer experience – and their employee and agent experience – with  that in mind.

Between the two customers, we heard from Rob Walker, VP of Decision Management and Analytics at Pega, about the always-on customer brain and strategies for engaging with them:

  • Know your customer: collect and analyze their data, then put it in the context of their entire customer journey
  • Reach your customer: break down the silos between different channels, and also between inbound and outbound communications, to form a single coherent conversation
  • Delight your customer: target their needs and wants based on what you know about them, using the channels through which you know that they can be reached.

He discussed how to use Pega solutions to achieve this through data, analytics and decisioning; obviously, the principles are universal.

Chrome Legacy Window 2015-06-09 103539 AM.bmpThe second customer on stage was Christian Nelissen from Royal Bank of Scotland, who I also saw yesterday (but didn’t blog about) on the big data panel. RBS has a good culture of knowing their customer from their roots as a smaller, more localized bank: instead of the branch manager knowing every customer personally, however, they now rely on data about customers to create 1:1 personalize experiences based on predictive and adaptive analytics in the ever-changing context of the customer. He talked about the three pillars of their approach:

  • It’s about the conversation. If you focus on doing the right thing for the customer, not always explicit selling to them, you build the relationship for the long term.
  • One customer, one bank. A customer may have products in different bank divisions, such as retail banking, credit cards and small business banking, and you need to be cognizant of their complete relationship with the bank and avoid internal turf wars.
  • You can do a lot with a little. Data collection and analytics technologies have become increasingly cheaper, allowing you to start small and learn a lot before expanding your customer analytics program.

Alan Trefler closed out the keynote before sending us off to the rest of the day of breakout sessions. Next years, PegaWorld is in Las Vegas; not my favorite place, but I’ll be back for the quality of the presentations and interactions here.

These two keynotes this morning have been great to listen to, and also closely aligned with the future of work workshop that I’m doing at IRM BPM in London next week, as well as the session on changing incentives for knowledge workers. Always good when the planets align.

SapphireNow 2015 Day 1 Keynote with Bill McDermott

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I’m back in Orlando for the giant SAP SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG conference to catch up with the product people and hear about what organizations are doing with SAP solutions. If you’re not here, you can catch the keynotes and some of the other sessions online either in real time or on demand. The wifi is swamped as usual, my phone kicked from LTE down to 3G and on down to Edge before declaring No Service during the keynote, and since I’m blogging from my tablet/keyboard configuration, I didn’t have connectivity at the keynote (hardwired connections are provided for media/analysts, but my tablet doesn’t have a suitable port) so this will be posted sometime after the keynote and the press conference that follows.

We kicked off the 2015 conference with CEO Bill McDermott asking what the past can teach us about the present. Also, a cat anecdote from his days as a door-to-door Xerox salesman, highlighting the need for empathy and understanding in business, in addition to innovation in products and services. From their Run Simple message last year, SAP is moving on to Making Digital Simple, since all organizations have a lot of dark data that could be exploited to make them data-driven and seamless across the entire value chain: doing very sophisticated things while making them look easy. There is a sameness about vendors’ messaging these day around the digital enterprise — data, events, analytics, internet of things, mobile, etc. — but SAP has a lot of the pieces to bridge the data divide, considering that their ERP systems are at the core of so many enterprises and that they have a lot of the other pieces including in-memory computing, analytics, BPM, B2B networks, HR systems and more. Earlier this year, SAP announced S/4HANA: the next generation of their core ERP suite running on HANA in-memory database and integrating with their Fiori user experience layer, providing a more modular architecture that runs faster, costs less to run and looks better. It’s a platform for innovation because of the functionality and platform support, and it’s also a platform for generating and exposing so much of that data that you need to make your organization data-driven. The HANA cloud platform also provides infrastructure for customer engagement, while allowing organizations to run their SAP solutions in on-premise, hybrid and cloud configurations.

SAP continues to move forward with HR solutions, and recently acquired Concur — the company that owns TripIt (an app that I LOVE) as well as a number of other travel planning and expense reporting tools — to better integrate travel-related information into HR management. Like many other large vendors, SAP is constantly acquiring other companies; as always, the key is how well that they can integrate this into their other products and services, rather than simply adding “An SAP Company” to the banner. Done well, this provides more seamless operations for employees, and also provides an important source of data for analyzing and improving operations.

A few good customer endorsements, but pretty light on content, and some of the new messaging (“Can a business have a soul?”) seemed a bit glib. The Stanley Cup may a short and somewhat superfluous appearance, complete with white-gloved handler. Also, there was a Twitter pool running for how many times the word “simple” was used in the keynote, another indication that the messaging might need a bit of fine-tuning.

There was a press conference afterwards, where McDermott was joined by Jonathan Becher and Steve Lucas to talk about some other initiatives (including a great SAP Store demo by Becher) and answer questions from press and analysts both here in Orlando and in Germany. There was a question about supporting Android and other third-party development; Lucas noted that HANA Cloud Platform is available now for free to developers as a full-stack platform for building applications, and that there are already hundreds of apps built on HCP that do not necessarily have anything to do with SAP ERP solutions. Building on HCP provides access to other information sources such as IoT data: Siemens, for example, is using HCP for their IoT event data. There’s an obvious push by SAP to their cloud platform, but even more so to HANA, either cloud or on-premise: HANA enables real-time transactions and reconciliations, something rarely available in ERP systems, while allowing for far superior analytics and data integration without complex customization and add-ons. Parts of the partner channel are likely a bit worried about this since they exploit SAP’s past platform weaknesses by providing add-on products, customization and services that may no longer be necessary. In fact, an SAP partner that relies on the complexity of SAP solutions by providing maintenance services just released a survey claiming to show a lack of customer interest in S/4HANA; although this resulted in a flurry of sensational headlines today, if you look at the numbers that show some adoption and quite a bit of non-committed interest — not bad for three months after release — it starts to look more like an act of desperation. It will be more interesting to ask this questions a few quarters from now. HANA may also be seen as a threat to SAP’s customers’ middle management, who will be increasingly disintermediated as more information is gathered, analyzed and used to automatically generate decisions and recommendations, replacing manually-collated reports that form the information fiefdoms within many organizations.

Becher and Lucas offered welcome substance as a follow-on to McDermott’s keynote; I expect that we’ll see much more of the product direction details in tomorrow’s keynote with Bernd Leukert.

TIBCONOW 2014 Opening Keynote: @Gladwell and More. Much More.

San Francisco! Finally, a large vendor figured out that they really can do a 2,500-person conference here rather than Las Vegas, it just means that attendees are spread out in a number of local hotels rather than in one monster location. Feels like home.

It seems impossible that I haven’t blogged about TIBCO in so long: I know that I was at last year’s conference but was a speaker (as I am this year) so may have been distracted by that. Also, they somehow missed giving me a briefing about the upcoming ActiveMatrix BPM release, which was supposed to be relatively minor but ended up  bit bigger — I’ll be at the breakout session on that later today.

We started the first day with a marathon keynote, with TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive welcoming San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, for a brief address about how technology is fueling San Francisco’s growth and employment, as well as helping the city government to run more effectively. The city actually have a chief data officer responsible for their open data intiatives.

Ranadive addressed the private equity buy-out of TIBCO head-on: 15 years ago, they took the company public, and by the end of this year, they will be a private company again. I think that this is a good thing, since it removes them from the pressures of quarterly public filings, which artificially impacts product announcements and sales. It allows them to make any necessary organization restructuring or divestiture without being punished on the stock market. Also, way better than being absorbed by one of the bigger tech companies, where the product lines would have be to realigned with incumbent technologies. He talked about key changes in the past years: the explosion of data; the rise of mobility; the emergence of social platforms; Asian economies; and how math is trumping science by making the “how” more important than the “why”. Wicked problems, but some wicked solutions, too. He claims that every industry will have an “Uberization”: controversies aside, companies such as Uber and AirBnB are letting service businesses flourish on a small scale using technology and social networks.

We then heard from Malcolm Gladwell — he featured Ranadive in one of his books — on technology-driven transformation, and the kinds of attitudes that make this possible. He told the story of Malcolm McLean, who created the first feasible intermodal containerized shipping in the 1950s because of his frustration with how long it took to unload his truck fleet at seaports, and how that innovation transformed the physical goods economy. In order to do this, McLean had to overcome the popular opinion that containerized shipping would fail (based on earlier failed attempts by others): as Gladwell put it, he had the three necessary characteristics of successful entrepreneurs: he was open/imaginative with creative ideas; he was conscientious and had the discipline to bring ideas to fruition including a transformation of the supply chain and sales model; and he was “disagreeable”, that is, had the resolve to pursue an idea in the face of his peers’ disapproval and ridicule. Every transformative innovation must be driven by someone with these three traits, who has the imagination to reframe the incumbent business to address unmet needs, and kill the sacred cows. Great talk.

Ranadive then invited Marc Andreessen on stage for a conversation (Andreessen thanked him for letting him “follow Malcolm freaking Gladwell on the stage”) about innovation, which Andreessen says is currently driven by mobile devices: businesses now must assume that every customer is connected 24×7 with a mobile device. This provides incredible opportunities — allowing customers to order products/services on the go — but also threats for businesses behind the curve, who will see customers comparing them to their competitors in real-time before making a purchasing decision. They discussed the future of work; Andreessen sees this as leveraging small teams, but that things need to change to make that successful, including incentives (a particular interest of mine, since I’ve been looking at incentives for collaboration amongst knowledge workers). Diversity is becoming a competitive advantage since it draws talent from a larger pool. He talked about the success rates of typical venture-funded companies, such as those that they fund: of 4,000 companies, about 15 will make it to being big companies, that is, with a revenue of $100M or more that would position them to go public; most of their profits as a VC come from those 15 companies. They fund good ideas that look like terrible ideas, because if everyone thought that these were great ideas, the big companies would already be doing them; the trick is filtering out all of ideas that look terrible because they actually are. More important is the team: a bad team can ruin a good idea, but a great team with a bad idea can find their way to a good idea.

Next up was TIBCO’s CTO Matt Quinn talking with Box CEO Aaron Levie: Box has been innovating in the enterprise by taking the consumer cloud storage that we were accustomed to, and bringing it into the enterprise space. This not only enables internal innovation because of the drastically lower cost and simpler user experience than enterprise content solutions such as SharePoint, but also has the ability to transform the interface between businesses and their customers. Removing storage constraints is critical to supporting that explosion of data that Ranadive talked about earlier, enabling the internet of everything.

We saw a pre-recorded interview that Ranadive did with PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi: she discussed the requirement to perform while transforming, and the increase in transparency (and loss of privacy) as companies seek to engage with customers. She characterized a leader’s role as that of not just envisioning the future, but making that vision visible and attainable.

Mitch Barns, CEO of Nielsen (the company that measures and analyzes what people watch on TV), talked about how their business of measurement has changed as people went from watching broadcast TV at times determined by the broadcasters, to time-shifting with DVRs and consuming TV content on mobile devices on demand. They have had to shift their methods and business to accommodate this change in viewing models, and deal with a flood of data about how, when and where that consumption is occurring.

I have to confess, by this point, 2.5 hours into the keynote without a break, my attention span was not what it could have been. Or maybe these later speakers just didn’t inspire me as much as Gladwell and Andreessen.

Martin Taylor from Vista Equity Partners, the soon-to-be owners of TIBCO, spoke next about what they do and their vision for TIBCO. Taylor was at Microsoft for 14 years before joining Vista, and helps to support their focus on applying their best practices and operating platform to technology companies that they acquire. Since their start in 2000, they have spent over $14B on 140 transactions in enterprise software. He showed some of their companies; since most of these are vertical industry solutions, TIBCO is the only name on that slide that I recognized. They attempt to foster collaboration between their portfolio companies: not just sharing best practices, but doing business together where possible; I assume that this could be very good for TIBCO as a horizontal platform provider that could leveraged by their sibling companies. The technology best practices that they apply to their companies include improved product management roadmaps that address the needs of their customers, and improved R&D practices to speed product release cycles and improve quality. They’re still working through the paperwork and regulatory issues, but are starting to work with the TIBCO internal teams to ensure a smooth transition. It doesn’t sound as if there will be any big technology leadership changes, but a continued drive into new technologies including cloud, IoT, big data and more.

Murray Rode, TIBCO’s COO, finished up the keynote talking about their Fast Data positioning: organizations are collecting a massive volume of data, but that data has a definite shelf life and degrades in value over time. In order to take advantage of short-lived opportunities where timing is everything, you have to be able to analyze and take actions on that data quickly. As he put it, big data lets you understand what’s already happened, but fast data lets you influence what’s about to happen. To do this, you need to combine analytics to define situations of interest and decisions; event processing to understand and act on real-time information; and integration (including BPM) to unify your transactional and big data sources. Rode outlined the four themes of their positioning: expanded reach, ease of consumption, compelling user journey, and faster time to value; I expect that we will see more along these themes throughout the conference.

All in all, a great keynote, even though it stretched to an ass-numbing three hours.

Disclosure: TIBCO is paying my expenses to be at TIBCO NOW and a speaking fee for me to be on a panel tomorrow. What I write here is my own opinion, and I am not compensated in any way for blogging.

The Rise Of The Machines: @BillRuh_GE On The Industrial Internet

Last day of Software AG’s Innovation World, and the morning keynote is Bill Ruh, VP of GE’s Global Software and Analytics Center, on how GE is becoming a digital business. He points out that part of that is what you do internally, but part is also your products: GE is transforming both their products and their operations on their transformation path. For example, their previous aircraft jet engines provided only aggregates measurements about takeoff, cruise and landing; now they have the potential to collect 1TB of measurement data per day from a two-engine aircraft. That’s really big data. Unfortunately, most data is dark: only 0.5% of the world’s data is being analyzed. We don’t need to analyze and act upon all of it, but there’s a lot of missed potential here.

His second point was about the “industrial internet”, where 50 billion machines are interconnected. We saw a revolution in entertainment, social marketing, communications, IT architecture and retail when a billion people were connected, but the much larger number of interconnected machines has the potential to virtualize operational technology, and to enable predictive analytics, automated and self-healing machines, mobilized monitoring and maintenance, and even increased employee productivity. Industrial businesses are starting to change how they get things done, in the same way as retail and other consumer businesses have been transformed over the past decade.

This flood of data is pushing big changes to IT architecture: industrial software now needs real-time predictive analytics, big data, mobile, cloud, end-to-end security, distributed computation, and a consistent and meaningful experience. Analytics is key to all of this, and he pointed out that data scientists are becoming the hardest position to fill in many companies. Behavioral changes around using the analytics is also important: if the analytics are being used to advise, rather than control, then the people being advised have to accept that advice.

Bill Ruh (GE) presentation at Innovation World - architecture for digital industry

The digital enterprise needs to focus on their customers’ outcomes – in their engine case, reducing fuel consumption and downtime, while improving efficiency of the operations around that machine – because at this scale, a tiny percentage improvement can have a huge impact: a 1% savings for GE translates to huge numbers in different industries, from $27B saved by increasing rail freight utilization to $63B saved by improving process efficiency in predictive maintenance in healthcare.

He had some great examples (speaking as a member of a two-engineer household, you can be sure that many of these will be talked about at my dinner table in the future), such as how wind turbines are not just generating data for remote monitoring, but are self-optimizing as well as actually talking to each other in order to optimize within and between wind farms. Smart machines and big data are disrupting manufacturing and related industries, and require a change in mindset from analog to digital thinking. If you think that it can’t happen because we’re talking about physical things, you’re wrong: think of how Amazon changed how physical books are sold. As Ruh pointed out, software coupled with new processing architectures are the enablers for digital industry.

Bill Ruh (GE) presentation at Innovation World - smart wind turbines

It’s early days for digital industry, and there needs to be a focus on changing processes to take advantage of the big data and connectivity of machines. His advice is to get started and try things out, or you’ll be left far behind leaders like GE.