Leading the data tide

This year’s Data Leadership conference included 12 presentations and a lively panel discussion around aspects of data management including strategy, analytics, security and infrastructure, with opening and closing comments from IA editor Ben Rossi.

Under the heading of ‘strategy and vision’, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman and co-founder of the Open Data Institute, kicked off the day with a keynote presentation on catalysing the evolution of an open data culture that will unlock an estimated $3-5 trillion industry.

Shadbolt then led the panel discussion between himself; Adrian Carr, vice president EMEA at enterprise NoSQL platform MarkLogic; Janani Dumbleton, data quality propositions manager at data quality solutions expert Experian Data Quality; and Matt Aslett, research director at analyst house 451 Research.

The data platform of the future will rely on open standards and a better knowledge of the open data landscape, Shadbolt emphasised.

‘There is currently a lack of awareness of the high-quality data for your sector,’ he said. ‘But we’re starting to see Deloitte and McKinsey laying out the landscape.’

Carr argued that internal silos are companies’ biggest challenge at the moment, but technology is facilitating possibilities for exploiting big data at key moments in business processes.

One audience member pointed out the contrast between the Open Data Institute and Experian’s commercial model, and asked about the ethics involved in the buying and selling of data as more and more people become concerned about the privacy of sharing their data openly.

‘I don’t see the two as ethically opposed,’ said Dumbleton. ‘At Experian, we hold a lot of credit information and people’s personal data. Instead of going down into the granularity of data, our aim is to try to give people meaningful summaries so they can see the patterns in the behaviours of collectives. The shift will be learning to desensitise mined information.’

Continuing on this theme in the second presentation of the day, Alan Mitchell, head of strategy at market analyst and consulting business Ctrl-Shift, discussed how personal data will fit into the data ecosystem, highlighting the need for a ‘social contract’ of rules and norms around personal data.

Janani Dumbleton then took to the stage to ask whether organisations can use the bad-quality data they are sitting on to build a business case for good. ‘While good data can drive a positive business strategy,’ she said, ‘bad-quality data can tell you what to fix and why.’

The second section of presentations focused on ‘analytics and intelligence’, beginning with Lee Eckersley, head of business analysis at discount holiday website Alpharooms.com. He explained in detail how his firm has empowered its business users to leverage data across the business, providing numerous benefits to its customers, helping to identify poor or missing website content and driving the competitiveness of its hotel and flight rates.

Gary Seaman, local government predictive analytics consultant at Presidion, then introduced the audience to a predictive analytics roadmap, beginning with understanding customer profiles, then bringing together unstructured and structured data sets for a 360-degree view of what customers think.

451 Research’s Matt Aslett explained the technologies required for a next-generation data management platform that will move away from the inflexible data warehouse model as Hadoop becomes a flexible tool.

He proposed the exploratory analytics platform as an alternative, with multiple data silos scrapped in favour of a ‘total data hub’.

Presentations resumed after lunch under the ‘security and governance’ theme, with MarkLogic technical director Paul Preuveneers asking the intriguing question: ‘How can a tree take you beyond the relational database world?’ He argued that the NoSQL database is the way forward for enterprise data.

Richard Lee, managing partner at executive consulting firm IMECS LCC, stressed the importance of a strategy in relation to governance. ‘Culture is the almighty indicator of big data insight adoption in any organisation,’ he said, as he explained how good governance means moving beyond the idea that data is ‘stuff’.

Companies need to adapt their culture regarding big data governance as they go, instead of bolting on policies later, said Lee, in order to ensure fact-based decision-making and leverage all of an organisation’s information assets.

Lee was followed by Tom Khabaza, who began by introducing the delegates to the Society of Data Miners, which Khabaza launched in October with the aim of increasing the visibility and understanding of data mining and analytics as a profession.

The day was rounded off with two practical case studies on building infrastructure for better data use. Firstly, Tim Cutts, acting head of scientific computing at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute – which is dedicated to genome and genetics research and played a large part in the sequencing of the human genome published in 2004 – took us on a journey towards implementing a data platform for 2,000 scientists.

He talked about how gene-sequencing technology is opening the floodgates to truly vast quantities of data, which will present an unparalleled data infrastructure challenge.

Finally, the conference heard how Blackpool City Council is building a high-performing, scalable public sector infrastructure, from Tony Doyle, head of information services.

One of his many worthwhile lessons for the public sector was that if local authority IT departments want to survive, ‘they have to keep doing things for themselves as agile service providers’.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...