LAS VEGAS—Sean Poulley, IBM vice president of databases and data warehousing, sees big data analytics changing the way businesses gain an edge. “This isn’t about a labor-based economy anymore,” Poulley says. “This is about intellect, and the fact that you might have the lowest manufacturing costs has got nothing to do with whether you win or lose in the marketplace. I think it will fundamentally change the basis of competitive advantage.”
At the Pulse 2014 event here, Poulley sat down with Data Informed’s Scott Etkin to talk about the meaning of IBM’s acquisition of Cloudant, a database-as-a-service company, and the future of big data. Excerpts from the conversation follow.
Data Informed: What issues should decision-makers in companies considering a big data implementation be focusing on?
Sean Poulley: They need to think about all the different kinds of data, whether it’s the scale of the data, or the velocity, like real-time data, or the fact that you have got all kinds of forms of data, whether it’s transactional data, text data, image data, you need to have a comprehensive, architectured approach to how you will manage all forms of data as opposed to buying lots of fragmented point solutions. Because if you end up with a fragmented information architecture, then you are not going to be able to move at the speed at which the data will move, in which case you will, therefore, by default, be competitively disadvantaged.
Are there plans for IBM to make additional big-data related acquisitions?
Poulley: We are always looking at the marketplace, for where there’s potential for us to go faster or get into new market segments. So there’s nothing I can tell you specifically about, but we are constantly looking at the marketplace.
Are there any specific problems you are looking to solve in terms of acquisitions?
Poulley: There are problem areas we are looking at. Whether we buy in those areas or not just becomes [a question of] build versus buy, speed to market. An area that we are really interested in is the concept of data discovering data. When the data gets so big, how are you going to figure it out?
It’s going to analyze itself.
Poulley: Exactly. I think doing a Google search on your data is probably not going to be good enough, because everyone will only get to that first page of results and that’s probably not good enough (laughs).
What do you think the big data space is going to look like, say, in the next five years?
Poulley: Cloud is a topic that’s been brewing for five, 10 years now. Big data really only started going, I think, about two to three years ago, at least in the way people talked about it. So in five years’ time, I believe, big data will be as big of a mainstream topic as cloud is right now.
And just like with cloud, when people didn’t really know what they were talking about: “It’s a cloud, it’s software-as-a- service. Is that platform-as-a-service? Is it infrastructure-as-a-service? Is any of that cloud?” All of that is what happens when a new category starts. People look at the elephant and whatever they see is the elephant.
Right now we have got that in big data: “Is it streaming data? Is it large volumes of data? Is it structured data for warehousing analysis? Is it transactional data?” Right now, I think most people are trying to figure stuff out across their information architecture. So in five years, I would foresee two things: One is big data will be the mainstream topic for business. If what I say comes true, that data becomes the basis of competitive advantage now and in the future, if big data isn’t one of your top business imperatives, you might not need any more business imperatives (laughs).
The second thing, and this is the thing I am so excited about, is rarely have I seen the IBM company in the front – I mean, we are the market leader in just about every segment of the big data space, and rarely have I seen us so well positioned to capture market opportunity. I think what you are going to see happen with the IBM company in the next five years will transform the company itself. I think it will create an altogether much bigger, more dynamic IBM company. And cloud is an integral part of that. So big data will kind of be driven and underpinned by cloud. And engagement, in terms of how we engage, will become the third big topic. So from a business point of view, we see big data as being absolutely central and cloud as absolutely central and how we engage with customers as absolutely central.
What would you say is the biggest big data takeaway from Pulse 2014?
Poulley: I think the big takeaway from Pulse is [IBM is] now starting to establish a leadership in the infrastructure-as-a-service marketplace. I think we were not well regarded before SoftLayer, and I think SoftLayer has transformed our position in infrastructure-as-a-service. [The Cloudant acquisition] will now enable us to transform our position in the platform services marketplace, which means that this is a very, very big strategic move by the IBM company, and Cloudant is a very, very important underpinning piece of the overall platform services.
Scott Etkin is the managing editor of Data Informed. Email him at Scott.Etkin@wispubs.com.