Big Data Analytics

For quite a while, I have been thinking that maybe I am the only one who doesnt understand what these words mean. I mean, with the buzz around these concepts (and here I mean the concepts, not the technology), these must be complex concepts to define, but the definitions that I was able to understand were all quite simple.

Big data is just that … BIG! There are essentially 3 things which define it:

1. Theres lots of it! Much more than we had imagined maybe even a couple of years ago.

2. The form of this data is too diverse. There text, images, videos, and what have you. Theres structured data and unstructured data, and data comes with its own context which makes it even more complex to handle.

3. Its being generated at a very fast pace. In fact, writing this blog is adding to this big data, as is your tweet, and those pictures you post on facebook, or those status updates that you like.

I was looking for whether this definition is correct or not, and I came across this video from Ericsson Research, which describes it quite simply with an example. If you want to get past the buzz and get to understand the concept, I would suggest you watch this.

So where does analytics come into the picture? Well, if theres so much of data, theres also the fact that its very difficult to build any coherent picture from this mass of data, and this problem is addressed by the analytics domain. Analytics helps us make sense of big data!

So what does Big Data Analytics need?

1. It requires infrastructure which is able to scale up or down based on the demands of the those who are generating this data, and those who are analyzing it. This means that the infrastructure needs to be flexible, and this can be handled much more easily with cloud solutions, and this is where cloud comes into the picture of big data and analytics.

2. It requires the applications which gather this data. A lot of this data is being generated by automated systems like sensors, and through mobile devices. With the scenario of equipment communicating with other equipment, the concept of the internet of things comes into the picture. Also, with the mobile device explosion, the importance of mobile applications and mobility solutions as an integral part of the picture also becomes apparent.

3. It requires the statistical and technology foundation which will help users or systems to make sense of this data. This is the analytics piece of the picture.

Heres a nice video about an IBM study on analytics.

This is how the picture gets a little clearer, and we can see how the cloud, internet of things, mobility, big data, and analytics are coming together to create a whole new technology paradigm.


Changing Education …

A few days ago, came across this article about the CS221 program offered by Stanford online. You can find more programs here. I found these quite fascinating. Somewhere, these present a changing face of education … or do they? I suppose this change started with MIT putting their courseware online. Then there was academicearth, which i thought was a sort of game-changer given that here, we didnt just have the courseware, but the entire lecture series video-recorded, and posted online. This meant anyone with an internet connection could be there, could learn from the some of the top universities, from anywhere in the world. Then there was Khan Academy … a game-changer in terms of the sheer scale Salman Khan has been created over the last 6 years (please dont look at these chronologically, am just trying to build the sort of continuum of changes which i feel have contributed to a possible new direction for education), and then there was classroom videos posted on youtube. Amazing, wouldnt you say?

These have a way of changing the way education is delivered going forward. If you look at the scenario today, teachers at a university deliver the same lectures year after year to a different audience. Instead of having to do this, teachers could video-record their lectures, and post them online, to be available to students. On their part, teachers need to be able to be available to guide research, mentor Ph. D. folks, and (probably the new aspect here), manage the learning process. When talking about managing the learning process, am talking about creating, managing, kindling conversations among students, guiding and mentoring students to enable them to learn more beyond the classroom lectures, and facilitate learning outside the classroom, in an ongoing way.

The next part, of course, is how this changing paradigm of education can be leveraged in the business scenario to redefine the training landscape. Any thoughts?


Training …

Was conducting a training last week … After quite a while. This was a leadership development program for senior managers. When conducting programs like these, for people with ample experience, a training program cannot follow the usual one-way flow of information. Rather, in programs like these, the program needs to be more a conversation. This is because a conversation helps to develop concepts by building on the experience of the audience, and helps them connect new learning with their experience.

To facilitate this, I usually ask participants to come out from behind their desks, and put their chairs in parts of the training room where they can feel more comfortable, and which helps them to interact better. What I see is that when people do come out from behind their desks, they usually tend to draw a line between them and the trainer. Why I say this is because people tend to bring their chairs up to the first desk, and not beyond. This suggests a sort of invisible line which seems to be there in our minds, between the trainer and the participants. Somehow, I feel, an effective trainer, when working with experienced people, is one who can diminish the line.


Email

Came across a piece about an organization banning email. Now, that might sound a bit radical, but there you are. You can find the article here. The CEO believes that only 10% of the emails people get are useful. Even if thats a trifle too little, the idea still remains that email may not be the productivity tool that we think it is. Lets look at why this may be.

To begin with, the purpose of email is to communicate, collaborate. Looking at the basic concept of email, we find that email is not a tool for conversation. Most of us would agree that the best way to communicate and collaborate is through discussions, conversations. And email, by its very nature is not meant to be a tool for that. though, quite a few of us do use email in that way. How many mail chains have you seen which run into pages? Sometimes, it seems like an email ping-pong which goes on. At times, you might get included in the email at a very late stage of the mail chain, and its rather a task to be going through the entire mail chain to figure out what its all about. This is because email is being used for conversing when thats something it is not meant to be for.

So, if the essence of communicating is conversation, which is also the tool required for collaboration, then wouldnt it be easier to collaborate if we use tools which are available to us, which are meant for collaboration and conversations?


Leadership Development

Recently came across an article about the top 25 companies for leaders. You can find the article here. Going through the article, couldnt help seeing that there seem to be some practices most of the organizations in the list seem to have, with respect to developing leaders. Thought it might be useful to list out the thoughts i have about these:

  1. Organizations with exceptional leadership must have a robust process to identify the leadership pipeline. There must be processes in place which can identify potential leaders across the organization, and across levels of the organization. This process must be person-independant, and must operate in a way where it can identify even junior employees who have the spark, the potential to lead, early on in their careers.
  2. There must be well-defined career paths for people who are identified as potential leaders. The important aspect here is that these people must be retained, while at the same time, ensuring they are on track to achieving their leadership potential. Lot of organizations refer to these as fast-track, or star-performers, but this career path approach must go beyond just that, to giving responsibility to these people to manage important projects or teams. This is not just about honing skills, but about giving them the opportunity to continuously prove their potential, both to the organization as well as to themselves.
  3. There must be a well-defined development process for these identified leaders. This development process needs go beyond training, and must include a range of other tools, including simulations, coaching, mentoring, special assignments, even including potential leaders as observers in senior management reviews, for example. This is a way of enabling them to not just understand theoretical concepts, but to develop themselves through hands-on experience, and through the guidance of leaders. Important here it is to include the senior leadership of the organizations in this process, especially when it comes to mentoring and coaching. This is where the senior leaders need to invest effort in developing the next line of leaders for the organization.
  4. Instead of looking at leadership development as a point intervention, it must be seen as a process which is going to take time, with defined milestones, and ways of evaluating performance while at the same time including feedback mechanisms which could further help enable the coaching and mentoring process.
  5. Grooming leaders must a mandatory part of the work of the senior leadership of the organization.

Assuming that different people would have aptitude for different functions, it would also be important to identify the areas of the organizations which different leaders are groomed for. Not every potential leader would be the CEO, thats something we need to accept, but having done that, we also need to define clearly who can play a leadership role in which domain of the organization.


Context

Ever walked into a meeting room which has been used by folks before you, who have left their scribblings on the whiteboard? Even if you can read what they have written or drwan, its usually quite difficult to understand what they must have been talking about.

This is about context. In this scenario, you have the content, but not the context, and it is a combination of the two that helps to understand, thereby creating knowledge. The context, in this scenario, would come from the discussion that would have accompanied the content that went on the whiteboard. There is some meaning attached to what’s there on the board without which the information is incomplete.

I feel a similar thing with presentations. If someone, in replying to a request sends you a presentation, you would find, more often than not, that you aren’t able to understand much. Notes with the slides help to some point, but the context of the information can’t quite be put in the slides.


Web2.0 and E2.0

Coming back to a topic which has been much written about, and much discussed, i can almost hear you asking why i would want to add to the already voluminous work which has been written about the topic. The reason why i thought i would write one on this is because there are a few thoughts i have, coming across writings about, especially about E2.0 which are going in a direction which i cant understand.

What i am referring to here is that i am seeing more and more references to E2.0 as being a technology architecture, and this, i feel, takes away from the very idea of E2.0 … what i feel is that E2.0 need not be about technology. Its about people, at the same time, its about organization structures. In other words, E2.0 needs to focus on the interactions between people and organizations, on the role people play in organiaztions, and how interactions between people, and interactions people have with the business environment of the organization, including processes, hierarchies and so on, and how these contribute to the functioning of the organization.

Technology here needs to be the enabler. While that is cliched, i would also add that that may not necessarily be so. Technology, in addition to being an enabler, can also be the starting point for developing new ways of working. For example, the idea of E2.0, of getting people from across the organization together on a virtual platform, leveraging knowledge from people across the organziation, across the organization hierarchy, to streamline the value chain and deliver greater value to value chain participants, originated from the web 2.0 technology which has emerged over the last few years, and has led to whole new ways of collaborating and working which we are seeing changing the way organizations work, and, from the discussions we are having, the way organizations could be structured in the future.