Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Top 5 Ways to Better Use Your Data

This post originally appeared on in May, 2016. 

 Top 5 Ways to Better Use Your Data

Sir Francis Bacon is said to have coined the phrase “scientia potentia est”, translated as ‘knowledge is power’. Four hundred years later, we might rewrite the phrase as “data potentia est”.  Data is power - so how can you better use your organization’s data?  Here are five suggestions to help you drive value from your organization’s data - quickly.

1)    Know what you have.

First and foremost, inventory your data. 

There are two types of data to identify. First is historical data. Historical data is data you’ve accumulated over years of doing business. This could include databases, files, spreadsheets, presentations, transactions, logs, etc. The second type of data is the data that is being created “right now” - this is real-time data. Real-time data potentially has immediate value, and then ultimately turns into historical data.

Catalog and prioritize the data you have. Ideally, you will also want to identify the sources of data. Knowing how data is created allows you to capture it, store it, and eventually extract value from it, at the least cost to the organization, and with the best ROI.

The value of each type of data is different. Historical data allows you to analyze and mine past events. Real-time data gives you the opportunity to calculate analytics, possibly compare them to historical trends, and perform business actions in real-time, to capture additional and immediate value.

By way of example, consider a fraud prevention offering. Fraudulent transaction patterns are mined from historical data. These historical patterns are applied to real-time transactions to identify and reject suspected fraudulent transactions.

2)    Architect a data strategy that handles both Big and Fast data.

Creating a historical archive, perhaps a data lake via a Hadoop cluster, to store your data is only one step. Today enterprises create data at a tremendous - and growing - rate.  Processing and ingesting data in batch mode overnight is no longer acceptable. Real-time responsive enterprises need to process and react to data in seconds to minutes. Many organizations, including mobile operators, telecom providers, financial services organizations and advertising technology providers must respond in milliseconds.

3)    Choose the appropriate technologies.

There are a plethora of big data tools, and most are designed around best practices, optimized to extract value from both historical and real-time data.

Minimally you will need technologies for these areas:

Big Data: Typically, the main data management platform for big data is Hadoop or a data warehouse or perhaps a combination of the two to handle both structured and unstructured data. They act as the repository for all your data, often called the “data lake”. The data lake stores historical data to be analyzed and mined. 

Fast Data: Data is being created at a dizzying rate every day. Fast data is data that is being created now and is streaming into your company now.  It could be user clicks on your corporate web page or product downloads or any operational event occurring in your organization.  To deliver this fast data to the systems that can act on it, consider a message queueing systems such as Kafka.  To eliminate batch processing (slow data!) this message queue needs to deliver event data to an operational data stores capable of handling and processing messages at web-scale speed, thousands to tens of thousands to even millions of events per second.  The operational data store’s role is to ingest the data and process it in real-time.  Real-time processing can include computing real-time analytics, such as counts, aggregations and leaderboards, issuing real-time alerts, deduping, enriching and aggregating events, and making transactional decisions on an event-by-event basis. Both NewSQL and NoSQL operational stores can provide horsepower for handling real-time processing of event streams.  Modern operational data stores range from strongly-consistent SQL databases to eventually consistent key/value and document stores.  Consider numerous factors when choosing, including transactions as well as query interface, important for your data visualization tooling.

Data Visualization: Dashboards, charts, leaderboards, pivot tables, and visualizations all play a key role in understanding your data, both historical and real-time.

Historical visualization helps you explore, understand patterns, and create predictive analytics. Real-time visualizations help you understand the current state of your business, usually in the form of a real-time dashboard.

You will want to evaluate tools from vendors such as Tableau, Qlik and MicroStrategy for dashboarding and ad hoc visualizations -- user experience is a critical factor with this kind of software so having your users try it out is essential.

Data Science: A growing number of tools can help you extract information and insight from your data. Machine learning packages provide data classification, clustering, and regression analysis, and allow software to “learn” to identify and make predictions on data. Consider popular open source offerings such as Spark (MLlib) or R to get started.

4)    Build a Data Pipeline that delivers Data as a Service (DaaS) to internal customers.

Define an architecture that serves data to your internal customers. Capturing and analyzing the data is great, but it is only the first step. Data and insights must be readily available to consumers (people and applications) across your enterprise. Consumers of your data must be able to tap into both historical data from the data lake as well as real-time fast data, along with the insights derived from both together.

5)    Begin building applications to extract value from the data  -  then iterate.

Start small and add incrementally. Identify opportunities for small quick wins that will prove you can capture value from your data. Realize that data evolves and new patterns will emerge. Foster an environment of experimentation, innovation and continuous improvement and iterate on your data analysis.

Data is valuable. Batch processing is so 1990s. Now you’ve got five ideas for how to extract more value from your data. Start now and iterate. Think Big, of course, but also Think Fast.

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