Hadoop and the great Sears' Big Data experiment


Fifty years ago, Sears Roebuck was the Amazon of today. For a wide variety of reasons, though, it has lost considerable ground to big-box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, not to mention online behemoths. Now owned by Kmart, Sears is struggling to survive. In this post, I ask the question: Is Big Data the answer to Sears' problems?

Innovation, Powered by...Sears?

In a recent InformationWeek articleDoug Henschen writes about the company's move to Hadoop for its analytic needs. By replacing its data warehouses and antiquated ETL processes with more Big Data-friendly solutions, Sears has:

  • reduced data storage costs
  • increased the data at its disposal and developed better customer analytics
  • dramatically decreased the amount of time required to produce them

Beyond these laudable achievements, Sears has launched a de facto Big Data startup within the company, Metascale. From Henschen's piece:

MetaScale's business model is to run Hadoop clusters for other companies as a subscription cloud service in Sears' data center. Or Sears will remotely manage clusters in a customer's data center, a setup that two early customers, one in healthcare and the other in financial services, both want for regulatory reasons. Monthly fees are based on the volume of terabytes supported, and customers can buy out deployments if they want to take them over and run them themselves.

In effect, Sears is trying to capitalize on the relative dearth of Big Data expertise. The company claims that it has already signed up some major clients but is vague on particulars.

I for one applaud bold moves, especially from enterprises without much to lose. What's more, Sears is following a successful model here with Metascale: Amazon AWS. Jeff Bezos' company "discovered" the cloud computing business almost by accident. By all accounts, it has been enormously profitable, spawning imitators like Google in the process.

Simon Says

Big Data can lead to big opportunities, not only internally, but as potential side businesses. To be sure, what works for Sears may not work for your organization. Still, with all of the hype about Big Data, there's something to be said outfits that are actually doing what they claim to be doing. Vaporware is anything but a new concept.

Returning to the question at the beginning of this post, I for one question whether Hadoop and Metascale can return Sears to its halcyon days. Companies that, in my view, use technology in far superior ways like Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy are reeling thanks to the usual suspects: the move online, smartphones, and ubiquitous connectivity. Showrooming may represent the death knell for retail stores as we know it.

Make no mistake, though: Big Data and Hadoop are here to stay. Ignore them at your own peril.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

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