Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Tuesday’s IOD General Session: Steve Mills, Frank Kern and Dr. Atul Gawande


I captured notes on pen and paper for Tuesday morning's general session with Steve Mills, Frank Kern and Dr. Atul Gawande, and I can't even keep up with the speed at which they speak when typing, let alone when trying to take notes longhand.  So with that, I'll apologize in advance for passing on summary bullets over a more complete description.

The key takeaways from the session for me were:

From Steve Mills:

  • We're at an inflection point, where IT will change the world even more in the next 50 years than in the past 50 years.
  • Businesses need to take a holistic approach, and IBM is approaching this in a modular fashion, with solutions to take work and time out of deployment, to offer high scalability, and to handle Big Data.

From Frank Kern:  
  • #1 challenge for CEOs is acceleration of complexity.
  • Tackle the biggest challenges first (and don't wait for the perfect data or skills) and start with questions, not data

From the panel:  
  • There's a large seismic shift in this space, from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance in data... and there are different skills needed in that environment.
  • Historically, the rate limiting step was analysis...  Now the rate limiting step is how quickly can we ask questions.

Here are my more complete notes from the session:

Steve Mills
  • As have been talking about, world's becoming instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.  As the cost of instrumentation keeps going down, we can measure business processes, human interaction in a way that couldn't do a decade ago.
  • Are seeing a change in boardroom conversations - do we have 1 version of the truth?  Do we understand our market?  Are we exposed to risk conditions?
  • Over the past 2 decades, we've been putting together a roadmap, from data and transaction on level on up.  There is a method to our madness when look across acquisitions and developments.
  • Taking a holistic approach to the problem...
  • We know that there aren't really greenfield situations - that people need to federate across existing sources.  And we know that far more data is stored in file systems than databases.
  • We're approaching in a modular fashion:
  • IBM Smart Analytics System - taking work, time out of deployment
  • DB2 - Taking lessons learned from scaling mainframe and bring it to distributed, offering near-linear scalability across nodes
  • Big Data
  • Handle uncertainty around format variability and velocity of data
  • Understand what customers are thinking, getting at things like sentiment analysis (which involves handling large quantities of unstructured data, and in a way that supports making it available to everyone.)
  • InfoSphere Big Insights - all about scaling, providing a deep dive and allow you to play what-ifs, provides end-user tools for big data.  It's unique in being able to deliver on all the capabilities needed while opening up new applications and uses that couldn't have been imagined.
  • We're at an inflection point, where IT will change the world even more in the next 50 years than in the past 50 years.

Frank Kern:
  • #1 challenge for CEOs is acceleration of complexity.  The gap between the level of expected complexity and preparedness to deal with that complexity is 30% - the biggest gap in the history of the study.
  • Success depends on being able to innovate through it, and technology has climbed to be the #2 factor in importance... people don't expect humans to be handle complexity all on their own.
  • Reinventing customer relationships - Enterprises are hearing what's going on from social networks, other sources.  They're leveraging technology to see things that you could never see before.
  • How to deliver quicker time to value:
  • Tackle the biggest challenges first (and don't wait for the perfect data or skills) - and even though they may be the biggest challenges, they don't carry the biggest risk, because the best talent will flock to the challenge.
  • Start with questions, not data
  • Embed insights to drive action... move away from spreadsheets, predict consequences of decisions or automate processes.
  • It's no longer enough for people to be smarter, enterprises must be smarter.

Customer panel  (Best Buy, Gwinett County (GA) School System, Nationwide, Nestle)

Best Buy:  
  • What are doing to extract customer insights:  Operations research and advanced mathematics to optimize advertising spend.  
  • There's a large seismic shift in this space, from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance in data... and there are different skills needed in that environment.
  • Historically, the rate limiting step was analysis, with days between getting answers (and then needing to iterate on them again).  Now the rate limiting step is how quickly can we ask questions.

Nestle:  
  • The culture is changing, and as a result the talents needed are changing.  Some of the questions they ask are: Do we have folks making the right decisions and the senior managers to manage them.  We need to anticipate retooling of organizational skills.
  • What we can do today vs. 5-6 years ago is stunning.

Nationwide:
  • Need patience - this is critical, but take the time to work through it.

Gwinett County:
  • Going slower is going faster - let early adopters be your advocates and it will go faster than if you try to push it through.

After the panel, Dr. Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, gave a great talk about how data is being collected and analyzed by the military, dramatically lowering the rate of battlefield deaths during in recent military action for the first time after decade upon decade of the death rate largely being unchanged.  The data pointed to conclusions that were not intuitive:  that it was better to stop a surgery half-way through and transport the soldier to a more capable facility) rather than trying to do the entire operation at once; that forcing soldiers to wear their kevlar vests could make a huge difference in survivability, or that redesigning protective goggles so they don't look like "something a senior citizen from Florida would wear" would greatly reduce the number of eye injuries.  

It was a very inspiring delivery and showed the impact that a focus on data and taking action on analytics can have outside of a business setting.