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Data Treated Well Will Be Like Good Wine


Big Community had the pleasure of a sit down interview with Steve Totman, Financial Services Industry Lead, Big Data Technology Evangelist at Cloudera. Steve is a global technology strategist with 15 years enterprise software experience with superior written and verbal skills and a highly requested public spokesperson and evangelist. He is also fluent in big data, hadoop, open source, cloud, analytics, modelling, ETL, metadata, data quality, governance, databases, data integration and business intelligence with multiple patents.

Steve was very accommodating in sharing his experience in use cases that he found through his extensive travels. Especially in recent weeks across the region.

“People are really interested in use cases. Two years ago at Strata Singapore, Mike Olson talked about Hadoop disappearing. By that he meant it’s going to sink down and become an operating system with the applications sitting on top. That’s really what I’m seeing everywhere I go. Prior to this I was in Australia for 2 weeks, and it is also apparent there that the use cases from this are really the most interesting thing people want to hear about,” he shared.

Steve went on to say that companies have knowledge on everything within a given company, from how many employees they have, to laptops and even doors. However, they don’t have the same knowledge on their data.

“Yet if data is treated well, it is like a good wine. It will increase in value and become more useful. Whereas applications are transient. After a few months or years, they start to whither and deteriorate, but the data will always be consistent.”

Steve explains a term coined by Doug Laney, Analyst at Gartner, called INFONOMICS.

“It’s a really interesting idea where you treat data like an asset on your balance sheet. Take for instance when Microsoft bought LinkedIn. They were effectively paying USDD350 per person, for the user data. In fact, there’s a casino in the US where the most valuable asset in the casino is its customer database. It can really be the most valuable thing a company owns, yet they know the least about it.”

Hadoop has made storing the data and processing the data easy while Cloudera are focused at making Hadoop fast to deploy and easy to run while being more secure.

“Security is an interesting piece too. We have 100 engineers in Austin at the Center for Security Excellence. Since Hadoop lets you bring all your most sensitive data into one place, that also means you have to protect it and to encrypt it as well,” he added.

Cloudera has a team that will go in and go through use cases to figure out which use cases to start with and spend a lot of time talking to them about how to structure a center of excellence around it.

Another area of interest was the data warehousing culture. “Most companies have a data warehouse or even more than one data warehouse, but still struggle to respond to the business. Probably taking 6 to 9 months to add a new data source. So in many ways this will have beaten the curiosity out of the business users.”

“Typically a user will ask for a certain data source and the data warehouse team will say that it will take a long time and cost a lot of money. They will then ask the user why do they need the data, to which the user will say they don’t know until they actually see the data,” Steve explains.

Steve calls this the ‘Death Spiral’ and says Hadoop has really changed that in 3 important steps. The 1st being the price point where instead of costing USD20k to USD100k per terabyte, it now costs just a few thousand dollars. The 2nd point in being able to load all data, be it structured or unstructured into one location. The 3rd being a schema-on-need and schema-on-read platform where you can flexibly change the data model.

“What I’ve noticed on my travels across this region these 5 weeks, is how companies are now able to not only respond more quickly in terms of getting insights from their data, but also to look at data they could not have before.”

Steve shares how one large bank approaches this problem. “A large team at a FinServe in Columbia started with Cloudera about 18 months ago. The IT lead will get the team to wear bright yellow shirts on Thurdays that say ‘Ask me about data’. His team has grown to 120 people. It’s a great way to attract people to the department and break the barriers to understanding data and becoming a data driven culture,” he said.

He adds that this idea of a data driven culture where data is critical and ‘Data is like wine’, is important to encourage people to be curious. In the past IT has been the department of ‘No’ when it comes to progress he says, but that has to change and will change.