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  Intercomms Issue 20
Issue 20 Articles

TMForum logo Thinking Big with
Big Data Analytics

By Rob Rich, Managing Director, TM Forum’s Insights Group

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Rob Rich, Managing Director, TM Forum’s Insights Group
Rob Rich, Managing Director,
TM Forum’s Insights Group

Rob Rich is Managing Director of the TM Forum's Transformation Research Center and TM Forum Insights Group, the Forum's market research arm. InterComms talked to him recently about his latest Insights Research Report “Big data: Big volumes, big payback and big challenge,” and also about TM Forum’s Big Data Analytics Summit in Amsterdam this past January.

Q: You've said big data has been hyped, but clearly, you think it's still important.
A: Big data is among the hottest topics this year across virtually all industries – and communications is no exception. Business leaders and IT management are inundated with proclamations, suggestions and even estimates of the market growth of big data, despite the immaturity of markets, technology and even without a consensus understanding of the topic.

Accompanying the barrage of superlatives are gloom and doom scenarios of organizations overwhelmed by the ever-increasing torrent of big data, or the predicted failure of any organization that might ignore the opportunity that big data presents.

In our estimate, big data is somewhere near the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ in Gartner’s hype cycle, and Gartner recently proclaimed it to be “falling into the Trough of Disillusionment.” Having said that, today, big data is among the most important forward-looking topics for business and IT organizations in service providers. It will remain among the top issues and initiatives for some time to come.

Q: How do you define big data?
A: While definitions of big data are all over the map, it’s common among commentators to characterize big data using the ‘4Vs’. First off is Volume. It should be no surprise that data volume is the primary attribute of big data. In fact volume, and increases in volume, is an issue that many service providers have been dealing with for years, capturing terabytes of data on a regular basis since perhaps the late 1990s. The difference now is that the increase of smart devices both in the network (such as probes) and attached to the network (such as smartphones, tablets, M2M devices and appliances) is exploding.

The second emerging aspect of big data is Variety. This is true both in data source and in format. Some of the newer types come from the web (social media, web logs, click streams and so on). It also includes various unstructured and semi-structured (such as XML) media types including voice, text, data, video and image from both internal (such as contact centers) and external sources.

The third V is Velocity. This might describe the speed and/or frequency of the collection and processing of relevant data. Customer retention, quality of experience, upselling/next best action, parental controls, fraud management and mobile advertising are a few of the areas that can benefit from service providers exploiting data faster.

Fourth is Veracity, or the accuracy, timeliness and really, usability of the data. Data integration, including time interval synchronization, has long been a challenge for information management professionals, but this is further exacerbated by the first 3Vs.

But, perhaps a more useful way to think about big data, at least from a business perspective, is through a fifth V – namely Value. Examples of value include greater efficiencies, better customer relations, or more product/service innovation and speed. This fifth V is what should make big data most attractive to service providers and other businesses.

Q: How is TM Forum looking at big data analytics?
A: TM Forum is focusing its work on how to use big data analytics to improve customer experience and enable business growth, rather than focusing on crunching numbers and data storage, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s important. Today, service providers face the challenges of how to deliver effective analytics to underpin business growth and a great digital experience across any device at any time.

My recent Insights Research report “Big data: Big volumes, big payback and big challenge,” looks at the components of infrastructure for big data management, such as access, storage, data integration analytics and information delivery capabilities, as well as the most important technological advances. I also look at in-memory processing, column-based databases, analytical appliances, in-database calculations and efficient loading techniques, and explored some next steps, such as increased data compression and de-duplication, self-service analytics, low-cost warehousing appliances and cloud computing. And I also give an introduction of emerging technology for coping with big data, such as Hadoop/MapReduce.

Q: What are service providers telling you about big data, the top opportunities and inhibitors and most importantly, success factors?
A: For my research, I interviewed executives in service providers from North America, EMEA, Asia Pacific and Latin America. While the respondents varied in size, the scope of their service portfolio and experience with analytics, they all took a very pragmatic view, reinforcing the importance of value as a driver for selection and deployment of analytics infrastructure.

All my interviewees saw the top three opportunities for analytics deployment as addressing improved op

Their critical success factors include: data management, clear business cases for deployment, availability of skills and the commitment of senior executives. Finally, they prioritized aspects of analytics platforms, favoring performance, high availability, manageability and scalability as their most important capabilities.

Q: What were the main conclusions from your Big Data Analytics Summit in January in terms of the role of corporate culture, process, what to measure and where to find the expertise to do this?
A: Well, the role of corporate culture is extremely important because there is a need to embed data analytics in the DNA of a service provider business as the way to make the right decisions, measure customer experience and empower product managers. There is also a need for process, tooling and technology change to underpin effective analytics, and establishing new partnerships between IT and business. Partnerships are key to overcoming the knowledge drought—the lack of available big data experts on the latest database and analytics technologies.

In Amsterdam, we also talked about the risk of measuring the wrong thing and designing and establishing metrics that measure the real customer experience, and how to enable data access that can facilitate decision making in near real-time.

Q: What are TM Forum’s recommendations for service providers as they approach big data analytics?
A: Service providers need to realize the importance of focusing on value, taking a portfolio management approach to big data, soliciting top management support, managing data as a corporate asset, continuous improvement, and nurturing internal analytical and data management talent. We believe that proper selection, deployment and use of analytics in decision-making processes has the potential to create big advantages for service providers both in traditional service markets, and also in new market roles as enablers of the digital value chain.

Q: Are you focusing on big data analytics at your Management World 2013 conference and expo in May in Nice?
A: What’s unique about Management World 2013 is that we’re addressing all the big data analytics challenge as one of eight Forums at the conference. This Forum gives attendees practical tools and techniques to help them navigate the digital storm with effective big data analytics, and exploring the business, regulatory, legal, cultural and technical issues. I’m chairing the opening panel on Tuesday, May 14th at 2:00pm: “Building the Business Case for Big Data Analytics” with three leading big data visionaries: Robert Istepanian, professor of data communications, Kingston University; Geoffrey Zbinden, vice president, Data Management and Customer Value, Orange Group IT; and Fergus O’Reilly, chief solution expert, SAP AG.

We are also planning a new in-depth session on data analytics on Monday, May 13th, as part of TM Forum’s new MasterClasses—or interactive sessions are led by industry gurus who encourage interaction and discussion, so that our members take away ideas, inspiration and connections. It promises to be a great conference overall. Hope to see you there.

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