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BW Businessworld

Big Data: Business Needs Insights, Not Commodity Data

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The Big Data panel discussion hosted by Businessworld in Bangalore provided great insights on how analytics companies and IT companies approached selling their data business lines. In the second session, the panelists clearly identified that clients were looking at fast business insights with data to create new business streams. Hosting the discussion, Fractal Analytics CEO, Srikanth Velamakanni, had his panelists warring over whether the IT industry would be disruptive in analytics or would they have to partner with specialist analytics companies. The panelists were Gaurav Vohra (Founder of JigSaw Academy), Navneet Kapoor (CEO of Target India), Dhiraj Rajaram (CEO of MuSigma), Vikram Duvoori (Corporate VP at HCL technologies); K R Sanjiv (Senior VP and global head of analytics at Wipro) and A R Girish (VP and head Products and Platforms at Infosys).
 
Srikanth Velamakanni: If you look around we are already consuming so much data. There are intelligent machines all around us that are generating data and this data is only going to grow. But the business of data has not become sophisticated and is not institutionalised across industries. The panel will be structured in four parts and will ask four questions: What are the market trends? What are clients asking? What is the talent that is needed for analytics? What should we do make this possible?
 
Let me start the session by asking Dheeraj about what does he think about Big Data.
 
Dhiraj Rajaram: This whole field is nascent and there is a lot of hype. It is useful short hand. But people like me benefit from it. However, there is a larger perspective. It is less about Big Data, it is more about how people make decisions with that data. The common thing in the market is that anything where there is a flow, is far more interesting than something that is a stock. MuSigma is built on this governing principle. Learning is far more important than knowing. Companies should compete on learning and the rate of change of learning. How people learn to a large extent is becoming inter-disciplinary. Math, design thinking, behavioural science and business are coming together. This is the new IP. The world of intellectual property is changing, it is becoming more interdisciplinary. Old IP was closed and secretive, new IP wants to collaborate. The third governing principle is extreme experimentation. We all live with the illusion that we know too much. It is like throwing darts at moving dartboards; you can say that we throw the darts better or bring the cost of darts down to throw more darts at the problem. We are interested in creating an art and science to solve the data problem.
 
Srikanth: On that point, what is the art of problem solving? What are companies asking you when it comes to data, I would like Sanjiv to answer this question? 
 
K R Sanjiv: The clients want us to explain new technologies and combine analytics. It is interesting to note that companies never invested in analytics and today we are seeing a lot of use cases. Industries like pharma, manufacturing, energy and utilities are talking about data today. Machines in manufacturing lines will deliver a lot of data, now imagine taking the downstream supply chain data and data from these manufacturing machines systems to capture business insight. A manufacturer’s expense for handling a recall takes $300 million; I imagine the Big Data platform could do predictive analytics on where the product or component could go wrong. This could result in saving the client half the amount. Now, imagine this impact across business. 
 
Dhiraj: Sanjiv is the industry perspective the best way to look at the business it or should we look at it more horizontally?  (Sorry Srikanth, for interrupting, I need to understand this…)
 
K R Sanjiv: My perspective Dheeraj is that getting success from business process backwards approach is the best way to look at it. Technology has common denominators, there are analytics platforms. BI, visualisation, analytics and insights are there today and yes in a way it is an industry based approach.  
 
Srikanth: Navneet, you are the only end user here while the rest of us are service providers, do you like to talk to people who talk about horizontal capabilities or people who come to you with a business case?
 
Navneet: There is no one way to approach a client. Data has always existed; the academic part of it is not new. Digitisation changed everything and it is making consumer power real. Consumers have access to information through digitisation and companies need to make use that to make revenues. How do you harness and manage all that; large companies have not managed this efficiently. You need horizontal and domain expertise. There is volume, variety and velocity; here we need the technology implementers to solves this and after this data is captured. Here is when the business domain comes in to the picture and if you do not know what to do with the data for the business contextyou are not going to win.
 
Srikanth: Your perspective on dealing with technology and analytics companies; are they looking at the same kind of talent? Also what is Big Data?
 
Gaurav:  Big Data is becoming popular only recently. It is sometimes just analytics; now they interchange it with technology. Now to IT companies versus analytical companies; the former are looking at what data tools will best suite a client. Pure play analytics want domain specific knowledge. They want us to teach their data experts on ways to tell stories with data. However, IT companies also want to do what analytics companies have been trying to do. 
 
Vikram Duvvoori: One of the things that we have seen is that a board member would call us and want to know what we are doing with data. A few years ago everyone was investing in data and not many insights were derived from it. Today all the board members want insights and are pushing for more investment on technology platforms. They have taken the impact on business outcomes seriously. System integrators and domain experts will co-exist. The market is shifting from broad themes around data and speaking of larger issues. Market is business centric today and people want problems solved. We are realising that many businesses are creating digital business channels; suddenly all this data is important. In a way what people were doing in silos, technology allows multiple platforms and brings together the entire business and consumption view.
 
Srikanth: Girish, What Are clients saying?
 
A R Girish: The answer is data is an asset; are they using it the right way. Are my operations and strategy working with data? They want to know more about their customers. One of the customers may want us to move beyond a consumer analytics platform and ask us to understand dark data or data sitting in their databases over the years. 
 
Navneet: Girish is right; analytics is no longer a support function. The business head wants fast insights and wants data to help increase sales. The question is how they would solve the volumes of data when dark data and social data are combined. Take us for example. Target  is a retailer and has tons of data across our multi-platform and multi-channel stores. CIOs today have to drive the business with insights and it is not from a technology stand point.
 
Srikanth: Do customers know their data?

Dhiraj:  Customers don’t know what they want. They want us to stage experiences with data and then create transformation rather than look at data as a commodity.
 
Girish:  I like the cow analogy. Data platforms can be implemented at scale today. Running experiments with data is great; also looking at data first is great if you know what you are looking for. Look at the e-commerce websites today; if you are buying men’s shoes, the website will also show you feminine products because data is coming from different sources. It is because the e-commerce infrastructure is not communicating with the customer data sitting in a data repository.
 
Gaurav: Businesses will come to you and tell you that they don’t know about Big Data. But I have all this data and how are you going to help us. They ask us to train them in how to look at it. 
 
K R Sanjiv: Customers today have a lot of data. They want to know how to monetise it to generate revenue streams. The ability to leverage and monetize data to create revenue streams are complex.
 
Dhiraj Rajaram: It is interesting to see that L&T the engineering company did not create the best software company. The best software company in India did not go through the BPO route, they acquired a BPO to add those capabilities. Disruption never comes from inside because the incumbent is vested in the status quo. I look at the world differently. Look at this way a cow is having grass in different places and also dumps in many places. We are looking at data this way; we are trying to track the cow on its dump trails. Similarly in business we are looking at what there is and not asking the question; why? This how you use data; BigData can be dangerous because it can end up being a hype.
 
K R Sanjiv: Dhiraj, I think the role of system integrators and analytics companies will not change. The role play will change, boutique companies will only be commoditized and system integrators will play a major role in creating the whole tech to analytics ecosystem. Say an airline company would not just need maintenance of its IT infrastructure; it will also need the analytics to do supportive and predictive work of all the data done from its machines.
 
Dheeraj: You are calling analytics a specialty. Niche is a dwarf and will never become big. But this niche is created by the organisation’s DNA. Analytics for me is nascent.
 
Vikram Duvoori: For us as system integrators, the added growth is in new areas. Our customers want insights. 60-70 percent comes from data infrastructure, managing events and outcomes. The issue is that product knowledge. What is the best way to model pricing in insurance companies; this form of data providers are not big. These guys are eco-system partners. There is a skill set. Sometimes a system integrator does have to partner with a specific skill set.
 
Gaurav:  Dhiraj, it is a matter of perspective. May be the system integrators will always be larger than the IT companies. Probably when there is a 100,000 people analytics there will be a case that analytics business is very large.
 
Girish A R:  System integrators are not about a low cost model. Arbitrage-based models are not the only ones that make money for the IT industry from India. For e-commerce companies we work with a base line data and help them increase traffic. So the model is a revenue share on the uptick of traffic and sales. There is enough innovation that is happening. The opportunity is being used by business users. They want technology that can help their web traffic grow and if we at Infosys can help them do that then customers would want to work with us. Here all the data is managed from our infrastructure.
 
Vikram:  People were using diabetics’ drugs for a particular number of days and the pharma company wanted information on patient compliance with the drug. We worked on data of 100,000 patients and helped the pharmaceutical company in understanding how the patients were reacting to that drug. This business was not sold as a line business, it had SMS alert and a nurse call back option. This is the future and the ability to look at the bigger picture is the key business opportunity for us.
 
Navneet: Again we are coming on to the same question; it is not going to be about one thing above the other approach. You need to coexist today and not just an IT Services model.
 
Srikanth: In India we have sold the bodies option; is it going to be disruptive going forward?

Dheeraj: We are looking at this as a transformation play and as an innovation arbitrage. We don’t run a services model and our financial model is different. The consulting company model is how they charge a lot of dollars per hour to tell you how to implement something. The systems integrator model is build the infrastructure and integrate the software. But we look at ourselves as those who do the math and the behavioural model for insights to make sense of the man-machine eco-system. 
 
Vikram Duvoori: The talent has to be focused on business needs. Since we are in the transformation play we need focus on math and data.