Welcome to Five for Friday with Darren Cunningham, VP of Marketing forInformatica Cloud.  Darren is veteran of the cloud, analytic and data space having previously held roles in the US and Europe with Business Objects, and more recently he was VP of marketing at Lucidera.

Today he spends his time with customers and thinking about how big data and the cloud changes the game for enterprises, and how to turn information into competitive advantage.

PM:  Darren – Analytics and business intelligence are top of mind for organizations today and Gartner says that BI is the #1 CIO priority in 2012.  Why is this such a hot button issue?

DC: It’s interesting to see BI back on top. Funny thing is, these days when I use the term BI people correct me and say analytics. It seems that BI has old-school connotations and an overall image problem, whereas anything to do with Big Data, social, mobile, and analytics is top of mind.  (Did I actually hear someone use the acronym SMAC?) But to answer your question, I think analytics/BI is a hot button issue for the CIO because it’s a hot button issue for the CEO, board of directors and ultimately shareholders. The BI market has always done well in difficult economic times as spending is cut and operational excellence is required to survive.  We all saw Moneyball, right? Quants are king these days and data scientists are emerging as the rock stars in a company.  Timely, relevant and trustworthy data can lead to analytical insight and therefore competitive differentiation, cost savings and revenue growth. Now show me the data!

PM:   If analytics are so critical to business success, why do so many projects fail? 

DC:  I spent about 7 years at Business Objects and rarely spoke to the people consuming the output of what the BI practitioners were building. Because building the foundation is difficult as so many silos of data exist in an enterprise, many BI initiatives are too ambitious in scope yet still only end of meeting the needs of a few and not the many. We used to spend a lot of time talking about the need to “think big, but start small” and other tried and true implementation concepts, but we rarely spent time helping organizations understand what questions they should be seeking to answer in the first place. We rarely spent time talking about what metrics they should be tracking – instead the conversation was focused on feature / function. We almost never spent time talking with the consumers of BI about how to interpret data and what visualization techniques might help make the potential insights more apparent. Instead it was all about: “How many metrics does your dashboard allow me to include? Is this built in Flex and does it run on the latest version of IE?” Good times…

There’s been a lot written about the different approaches to data warehousing and why so many BI projects fail, but I don’t think enough has been written about what I see as the fundamental problem the industry has faced – the focus has been on the tools and technology and how to best implement them instead of how to actually analyze and interpret data in the first place. That was a big eye-opener for me when I joined a SaaS BI vendor called LucidEra. We didn’t have the outcome we hoped for, but we sure learned a lot along the way. When building the BI infrastructure was removed from the equation, the conversation changed from IT speeds and feeds, to the questions the tools could answer. We also learned that most people don’t know what questions to ask in the first place, but that’s another conversation. Bottom line is that this is why I think cloud-based analytics can be so disruptive to the traditional BI market. If vendors can truly can remove the barrier to entry and help organizations with the analytics and not just the infrastructure, that’s real business value.

PM:  There is a lot of talk about “Big Data” in the press, blogs and industry events. How do you think about big data?

DC:  When I talk to customers, I commonly see the Big Data discussion break down into one of three big challenges:

  • Big transaction data: The massive growth of transaction data volumes is causing companies to rethink their strategy to handle transaction volumes.
  • Big interaction data: The enterprise is now dealing with massive amounts of social data.  In addition, the explosion of mobile devices changes requirements both for data volume and the experience users expect.
  • Big data processing: Hadoop adoption is growing fast in the enterprise, which means organizations need new ways to process the data, and new scale.

For me, I think it’s fantastic that that we’re seeing so much innovation in this market. Big Data was a key theme of Informatica’s recent 9.5 release and it’s energized the traditional data warehouse and BI market.

PM:   Many larger organizations are now moving to “Cloud First” as their enterprise IT and application strategy.  How does cloud change the game?

DC: I actually wrote a post about this on Sandhill.com where I talked about how IT organizations have gone from Cloud Skeptical to Cloud Curious to Cloud First. The pendulum has swung and many IT organizations now have to justify why new expenditures are not cloud based. With that comes a level of maturity that I think is good for the market. We’ll see if the traditional enterprise vendors can adapt and respond. It’s not going to be easy. At the same time, we’ll see if some of the new, cutting edge vendors in the market will be able to step up to the meet the demands of enterprise IT organizations. I suspect many won’t.

PM:  The summer Olympics are in full swing – who are you following and what impresses you most?

DC: Well, I love that Dong Dong won today on the Trampoline! Classic. As a Canadian, it’s been tough watching the NBC nightly feed. Bob Costas is great, but I’m not loving the Ryan Seacrest updates. As a former high jumper, I’m really looking forward to the Track and Field.