Big data could back a retail revolution for items as sophisticated as jet engines, a panel of CEOs from high-powered tech companies told a VMWorld audience.
Joe Tucci, CEO of EMC says most data is unstructured and may be located in public networks or those of partners. The challenge is to access it and perform real-time analytics on it to make better business decisions. He says the Holy Grail is location data that could revolutionise retailing by pushing coupons to consumers as they pass items in stores.
A prime example, says incoming VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, would be the ability to push a beer coupon to a customer passing the cooler and an Advil coupon at the same time to deal with the impending hangover. Or notification of an ongoing data breach as a consumer was making an online transaction.
Business can look forward to making useful analysis of mountains of data that hasn't been collected yet but that is in the offing as traditionally isolated devices report their status online, says Paul Maritz, the outgoing CEO of VMware. For example, connected jet engines can be better cared for if anomalous vibrations are detected between regularly scheduled maintenance and problems are fixed before they cause disaster.
This same type of data could be used to create new sales models for jet engines, he says, citing an actual VMware customer. Rather than sell a device, the manufacturers could sell quantities of power to airlines and provide on-demand maintenance. That would require a type of social media involving devices to replace traditional business process workflows.
These comments came during a wide-ranging discussion among Tucci, Gelsinger, Maritz, Dell CEO Michael Dell and Tom Georgens, CEO of NetApp that was held in front of a packed auditorium at the conference.
The group agreed that security in virtualised environments presents challenges that require a new set of tools for setting limits on who can access what data.
Dell says the network boundaries separating companies are coming down, opening up corporations to new security challenges as personal mobile devices are used to conduct business. "Now it could be an employee device on a third party network using a third party application. Security has to be really closely paid attention to," he says.
The flip side, says Maritz, is that too much security means less functionality that is necessary to commerce. "We can no longer wall ourselves off, and we have to expose ourselves digitally in order to do business," Maritz says.
Not surprisingly, he advocates placing logical boundaries between data that needs to be kept separate such as software containers within phones to separate users personal data and applications from those used for business - tools his company makes.
Security also becomes less physical and logical boundaries and more behavioral, where anomalous behavior by individuals or applications raises security flags and sets of triggers set by risk profiles. "This is easier to do in a software-defined world," he says. VMware is promoting its concept of the software-defined virtual data centre this week at VMworld.
Allowing personally owned devices in corporate networks is one thing, says Tucci, but there is a lot of shadow spending within businesses on unauthorised gear that could represent vulnerabilities.
This shift to using personal mobile devices is being called the post-PC era, but members of the panel disagree with that characterisation. "The post PC era has been pretty good to PCs so far," says Dell, noting that the term has been applied since 1999 and PC sales have tripled since, although they are suffering now.
Maritz says a better way of looking at it is an era of multiple devices in which the device used is the one best suited to circumstances. "There are certain things you can only do on a big screen," he says, "like edit a PowerPoint."
Tucci says that any innovation and productivity gains in business require IT investments, but three quarters of IT budgets go toward maintaining the existing infrastructure. He says cost savings from use of virtual and cloud technology could be used to spark innovation and improve business processes.
But strictly in the IT realm, executives need to be willing to take chances on new technology that could boost productivity for their businesses of cloud infrastructure will help free up some of that budget, Georgens says. "The thing that gets you fired is when rivals create a competitive advantage when you, as CIO, said that type of move was impossible or too risky." Cloud was a technology many businesses were slow to latch onto sometimes to their disadvantage, he says.
Gelsinger says that businesses need to revise their organisational structure as they adopt new technologies that alter how their infrastructure works. The networking group at some businesses still butt heads with their counterparts in storage and computing. With virtualisation of data centers, he says, database administrators no longer control information; that is done at the virtualisation layer. IT needs to look at itself as a service organisation that charges business units for services.
The group identified what it saw as trends affecting IT. Dell says that open source efforts such as Linux and Open Stack have drawn a large group of vendors to join in. The open communities nurture innovation that results in better products for customers, he says.
Georgens says the trend he sees is cloud, and the surprise is that large enterprises seem to be embracing it even though on paper it looks like it would be more attractive to mid-size businesses.
Maritz says business IT leaders need to tell their customers - and these could be internal customers - that in order to deliver new levels of business agility they may have to leave behind their legacy infrastructure and ways of doing business. These leaders need to say, "You need to give us leeway," because they have hard choices to make.
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