Harnessing Big Data with BI-as-a-Service

Big Data doesn’t do your company much good if those who know your business best can’t harness it to unlock its value.

EMC IT’s soon-to-be-launched Business-Intelligence-as-a-Service (BIaaS) will provide that access to business groups across the company, along with a cutting-edge set of tools to help them probe trends and explore hypothesis on a whole new level.

BIaaS will soon be among the catalog of services available via the new EMC IT model, IT-as-a-Service. Basically, it will enable EMC’s business units to rent space and capabilities to conduct their own data analysis projects with full access to EMC’s previously highly-restricted corporate data base. (They will, of course, need to have proper security clearance and also approval from their controller.)

BIaaS will provide users with an analytics solution based on EMC’s Greenplum Unified Analytics Platform technology. The platform will be populated with a copy of existing corporate enterprise data to which the user can add additional data sets and manipulate it to explore trends or test theories. Think of it as having your own analytics sandbox on top of EMC’s enterprise data assets.

The BIaaS platform is architected so that we can allow the users the freedom to explore, mine and manipulate the data in ways that we could never allow on the mission critical Global Data Warehouse.

This new window on business intelligence has tremendous potential for greatly expanding EMC’s ability to effectively mine its Big Data. BIaaS is currently being piloted by several business units and is scheduled to be generally available by the end of March.

Eliminating past barriers
In the past, EMC business units that wanted new reporting or analytics using EMC’s enterprise data would have to make a request of IT to accomplish it. Oftentimes, IT could not react fast enough to meet the business needs due to other priorities and limited resources. Additionally, IT would often not be able to give business researchers the flexibility they needed to do the analysis because of potential risk to EMC’s mission-critical Global Data Warehouse.

Faced with these barriers, some business units pursued data analysis on their own, using IT infrastructure that they bought and maintained themselves outside the purview of EMC IT. We can call this Shadow-IT or said differently – Business managed IT. They often relied on Microsoft Excel or Access to painstakingly perform the analysis needed to support the business.

The business spent countless man hours searching for and verifying the data they needed. In fact, a recent workforce analysis by one of our business units showed that some 16 percent of their personnel’s time is spent gathering data and generating reports. It further found that only a fraction of that 16 percent is actually spent analyzing the data to gain insight into how to improve business performance. Sixteen percent may not sound like much until you put it in the context of headcount. For a 1000 person organization that would mean that 160 people were doing nothing but sifting through data and generating reports.

With BIaaS, business units won’t have to maintain their own databases or infrastructure or worry about whether or not it can handle future requirements. IT will manage the platform for them and ensure that the enterprise data assets are available for use.

Freeing the business to explore
The result will be more flexibility, cost efficiency, security, and room for business creativity in exploring Big Data. Business units can focus their valuable resources on business analysis rather than hunting down, assembling and maintaining data. They can also explore new data sets and determine their value prior to embarking on a traditional IT project to integrate it into the enterprise foundation.

For example, one of our business groups approached my team with a request to integrate nine years of historical data from several of EMC’s acquisitions because they thought it “may” be of value to their analysis. The project was estimated to take between three and six months to complete and cost many thousands of dollars. With BIaaS, however, we can quickly load that nine years of data into the workspace, where the business unit can have their analysts test the data to determine if it is of value to their analytical models, before spending the time and money to integrate it with their larger data set. In addition, the business users can develop the reports that are most relevant to them and then close the loop with IT on a more robust supportable basis. This acceleration of business value from concept to productization is a key value proposition of BIaaS.

The business users are not the only ones that will benefit from this environment. It will also enable IT to more quickly deliver new data sets, conduct proofs of concept and test new tools and capabilities that can be delivered to the business. In the past we would have had to procure hardware and setup parallel environments which would take weeks at a minimum and potentially months. We can now provision ourselves an analytics workspace and be off and running in hours.

I am sure by now you may be wondering how much this all costs? Our analysis has shown that utilizing our BIaaS offering will not only provide superior analytical capabilities than would typically be practical for a single department – but will also reduce the overall cost of delivering these capabilities to the business by an average of 30 percent – compared to the old model of individual business managed infrastructure and applications.

BIaaS will help open up a new frontier of Big Data analytics in which knowledgeable business users and our data scientists (more to come on this) will be free to test their theories and probe new trends. But we are not stopping here! Our BIaaS future roadmap will offer a series of new tools and capabilities to further empower our big-data analysts.

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