By Dave Reeder
“We start this as a journey. This is our first conference in Dubai – it won’t be our last.” Hermann Wimmer, EMEA President of data warehousing provider Teradata welcomed over 100 attendees from the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh to a regional conference, to help drive forward the company’s new vision.
Barely three years after its spin-off from NCR, Teradata is riding high, outperforming most of the IT industry even during the worst days of the global crisis. Formed three decades back with a vision of large data warehouses, it has since led the field. In terms of large global implementations, household names like eBay, Amazon and WalMart all use Teradata’s massively scaleable appliance-based data warehouses, with some implementations now in the multi-petabyte range.
“I believe there is no future for companies not engaged in data analytics,” Wimmer said, setting out the agenda of the conference. “Data analytics is no longer a by-product but a core business driver.”
The point was taken up enthusiastically by Dr Stephen Brobst, the company’s CTO. “Metadata – the context of data – is critical to get full value from data. Without it, data just isn’t information.” His theme was simple: capturing data is not enough. There has to be a system for managing the collection, storage, analysis and dissemination – only this, he argued, will give you “a single source of truth” about data.
Pointing out common mistakes in implementing enterprise information systems, he urged being pragmatic to start getting business value. “If you think all your data is perfect, you’re delusional,” he spat out, shocking some in the audience who seemed to think that data capture was the name of the game. “Look,” he argued, “it’s just not a workable data warehouse until there’s a data model where you understand the relationships.”
And understanding the relationships between your data means analysing your internal and external business relationships. “Don’t waste your time reinventing things,” he urged, pointing out that for, say, a bank, many of the data sets repeat across lines of business – customer name, address, etc. “Data marts are just islands of analytic application – that’s why they don’t work. You need to integrate, not federate, otherwise you’re condemned to redesigning the same framework over and over again. Be smart: leverage your effort via establishing the right Enterprise LDM (Logical Data Model) framework.”
Although many organisations have adopted data warehouses, Teradata believes that getting value from the data is still in its infancy. “Data integration breaks down line of business silos,” agreed Dr Judy Bayer, Director of Advanced Analytics at Teradata EMEA, but its business analytics that will provide business agility.
As an example, Wimmer pointed to eBay, one of its key reference accounts with a Teradata data warehouse amongst the largest in the world – multiple petabytes is the suspected but unconfirmed size. It has 5,000 data analysts working on that multi-petabyte data mountain, sifting and analysis over 1Tb of customer data every eight seconds! It’s an operation that large and complex that allows eBay “to analyse customer behaviour and optimise its business constantly”, Wimmer added.
Attendees at the conference – typically from the banking and telecom sectors – were looking for ways to increase customer retention and increase customer value, both obvious targets for business analystics, according to Bayer. “Advanced analystics are going mainstream,” she said, “precisely because it addresses issues like customer attrition, churn and the like.” Historically, analysis focused on past behaviour; now, advanced analystics allows predictive analysis, from simple examples like stock planning levels for a food store against future weather patterns (better weather equals more barbeques, for example), to more complex examples like advanced analysis of mass customer behaviour. In the future, for example, the old analysis of analysing customer behaviour via credit card usage (where, when and what) will morph into analysing customer behaviour via smartphone analysis.
“The real question,” according to Wimmer, “is who wins in the market – the handset manufacturer, the telco, Google?”
And the really interesting future comes, according to Brobst when unstructured data enters the picture. “We have all this data which is not being captured and analysed, from social networking which every company is now using. Dealing with this so-called ‘big data’ is critical, which is why we’re acquiring Aster”
The deal for the data warehousing and analtyics startup Aster Data Systems is expected to close in Q2. The acquisition will give Teradata the tools to analyse unstructured data, which involves complex interrelationships that do not lend themselves to analysis with traditional techniques. Oracle is already looking at such analysis with its Exadata initiative.
With major regional customers like NBAD, Etisalat Misr and Batelco, Teradata is again expecting to outperform the general IT industry, with projected growth of between 12 and 14% this year, according to Wimmer.