Big data and systems that need to go around in circles


I had a very interesting conversation with my seat mate in the flight to SFO early today . He works as a manager at an airline, and grew up the ranks . Currently he is exploring ways of “learning faster” given his team was having a hard time with baggage handling and they want to fix it like yesterday .

He had a big data book in his hand – which is why I started the conversation with him , and I am glad I did .

Here is his situation in a nut shell. He can get pretty much any report he wants on any data that affects his work . It is not real time , and that is fine by him . He needs printed reports that his team can carry around in their pockets and check periodically . Essentially real time is not an issue and neither is mobility .

However , when a problem occurs – he has to trust his memory to remember when it happened the last time and what he did to solve it . None of his reports give that information to him .

In his words – this makes him go in circles , while his information systems go in a straight line . He wants a solution that will go in circles with him in perfect sync . Why circles ? Because he says almost every problem he encounters is a repeated problem that has been solved in good and bad ways before . He doesn’t have the time to sit down and document solutions in a word document given he has a very busy job . His question is “why can’t the system figure it out that it is a repeated problem and tell me everything that has been done before and what worked and what did not ? “.

I asked him how he ended up with the big data book . He said his wife is a college librarian , and she told him that “big data” is the fancy technology that solves all kinds of complex problems and found him this book . He also said it is the first time he is reading a book other than an airline manual in more than a decade .

Eye opening conversation for me – to say the least . I wonder how many such employees and managers exist in the world today , where the IT systems cannot help them the way they want to solve problems in real life . This is not just a big data problem – the whole IT industry needs a reality check .

At the very least – it is a good proof point that yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems . Time for us to stop thinking in abstract ways with lot of jargon thrown in – and just go help solve real problems .

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Vijay,
    Given the brief summary, with absolutely no details (and the devil is ALWAYS in the detail) , I would suggest that Airline guy needs some kind of COTS Enterprise Help Desk tool; so he can store all his incidents AND the responses to them, with indicators of success, then have a smart (oh OK, call it “Big Data” since we want to charge a premium for the product) search engine over the top.

    PS is this comic sans I see before me ? FTW

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    1. Martin , a help desk tool with smart / big data capabilities is probably what he needs . A good case of OLTP and OLAP convergence

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  2. Skander Kechaou says:

    You are right yeserday’s issues will need tomorrow tools to be solved and learned from. Watson? May be?

    I love your blog. We miss you at Big Blue.

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    1. Thanks buddy – trust all is well in big blue land

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  3. He totally needs #sapjam’s networked learning capabilities. #totallyshamelessplug.

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  4. Ingo Hilgefort says:

    time to think about the “solution” in a very different way and not to think about the “technical solution” first. Had a very interesting conversation here in South Africa with a retailer and very interesting approach on how they solved their problem (did include “big data”).

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    1. Johannes says:

      Hi Ingo – mind sharing conceptually what they did? Johannes

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    2. Waiting to hear that story from you today

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  5. Johannes Lombard says:

    Hi Vijay – nice read. Pre-defined / straight-line / SVOT BI will likely give us 50% adoption today, and maybe not even 25% in 5 years. As you know self-service tools are developing, but perhaps the biggest development need is with analysts themselves. Some analysts need to provide [knowing where to go dig], making the right decision based on data. SVOT probably a dying breed…..maybe SVOT is becoming SPOA [smartest plan of action :)]..

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