There are two things I've learned at IDEAS this year. First, if you wear a pedometer, prepare to be amazed at how much ground you cover at a Las Vegas event (yesterday I walked 6.1 miles around the Aria). Vegas hotels are notoriously big, and with a growing conference, many of us ended the day tired but happy.
The second lesson is that organizations around the globe are already well underway in learning to manage massive amounts of data. And the first two speakers of day two talked about the need for a better understanding of corporate information. In the morning session, Tony Fisher from SAS DataFlux provided an overview of the data management world. Tony turned things over to keynote speaker Jeff Ma, who cultivated a method for counting cards in blackjack and served as the inspiration for the best-selling book, Bringing Down the House, and the hit movie, 21.
These speakers look at data in different ways – Tony focused on a history of SAS DataFlux customers, while Jeff explained how the fundamental system of beating the house in blackjack can apply in today's business environment. The commonality of both was the use of the phrase “data-driven,” as in “data-driven world” or “data-driven decisions.”
Tony talked about the excitement around big data felt in IT organizations across the globe. Yet, while the amount of data is increasing, the number of hours in a day and, regrettably, the number of resources available are fairly constant. Tony reinforced an important point from day one. Call it big data or cloud data – it’s still data, and data is an asset that requires the same data quality and data integration strategies that SAS DataFlux pioneered for the last decade. As organizations enter a “social era of business,” companies are now externally focused and must make data-driven decisions based on data flooding the organization from without, not within.
Jeff Ma took the data-driven discussion in a different direction. As an MIT student betting thousands of dollars on a single hand of blackjack, he had faith in one thing: the data. If the math told him to split a pair of 10s when the dealer held a 5, he did it. Statistically, this was the right play and ignoring the data would be illogical, even if his emotions told him to take a safer path. The data, not instinct or a "gut feeling, drove his decisions, and it paid off – much to the consternation of the casinos.
Later in the day, SAS DataFlux customers presented on ways that they are managing information in a "data-driven world." Devon Energy, an oil and gas exploration company, was a pioneer in applying data quality principles to location data. Devon needed a better way to aggregate information coming from drilling sites throughout North America, and SAS DataFlux technology became a key component in that process. Other customers shared stories about customer, product, financial or asset data that were once out of alignment before a data management program.
For any organization, access to data isn't the problem. It's cheaper than ever to aggregate massive amounts of information. The key will be managing that information well and making sound decisions based on this data. That's what happens in a data-driven world, where the difference between success and failure can rest on the ability to manage the avalanche of big data – and not get buried by it.