Interview: John Schitka, SAP on How to Get Started with Big Data

We discuss the current perceptions of Big Data, challenges for Big Data consumerization, dealing with the talent gap, and business strategy for Big Data.

John SchitkaJohn Schitka works on the SAP Big Data Solution Marketing team. His interest is on the benefits of Big Data in general with a focus on Hadoop in the SAP Big Data ecosystem along with the SAP HANA platform for Big Data. A graduate of McMaster University, he holds an MBA from the University of Windsor. He has worked in product marketing and product management in the high tech arena for a number of years, taught at a private college and has co-authored a number of published text books. He has a true love of technology and all that it has to offer the world.

Here is my interview with him:

Anmol Rajpurohit: Q1. How do you think Big Data is being perceived today by the C-level executives of large firms? What opportunities and challenges are on their priority list?

John Schitka: Every CEO wants a unique Big Data ‘model’ to differentiate their company. Business managers and stakeholders are seeing the big-data-executivessuccess Internet companies are having mining data, but they are struggling to translate that to their specific industry.

The challenge they face is they do not really know how, or are unsure of what Big Data can do for their business. One must start with a business level discussion, not a technical one. They have to identify the business value opportunity and how to operationalize it.

Big Data is an opportunity to re-imagine our world, to track new signals that were once impossible, to change the way we experience our communities, our places of work and our personal lives. However, its potential would be missed if we started by discussing data management technologies or data mining algorithms and not business needs and value. The most successful Big Data projects are collaborations between business and IT, but initiating those conversations can prove difficult. To that end, SAP offers Big Data Workshops focused on Big Data use cases specific to each customer’s business and industry.

AR: Q2. Given the current state of technology and talent, what do you see as the biggest challenges in the way of consumerizing Big Data on a massive scale?

JS: I feel that people are their own biggest obstacles. I believe that they see or expect implementing or bringing Big Data projects to life to be difficult and complex. And with this perspective either shy away or look for and create very complicated ways of consumerizing Big Data. People really need to see that they can just keep it simple.

This is compounded by a few other factors as well. Often businesses do not really know how Big Data can benefit them so they really do not know what or how to consumerize it as a result. IT feels Big Data is a data management and data warehousing problem and the business managers’ priority is to tie Big Data insights directly into their business processes, equip frontline staff, and act on insights in day-to-day operations. There is a need to involve both IT and business users in the discussion of how to lever and consumerize Big Data. It is often difficult to bring the two together to bridge that gap. And there is the issue of skills and abilities to implement Big Data solutions from Data Scientist on down.
Big Data is not and does not have to be complex and SAP can simplify things. Simplicity can be achieved through the capabilities of SAP HANA platform and other related technologies to unify and simplify data landscapes. And of course there is the SAP s-innovation initiative to drive simplicity across business to help drive instant value with simplicity removing barriers presented by lack of skills and custom built solutions. Things like SAP Sales Insight for Retail that lets business users get deep insights from Point of Sale data provide simple ways of consumerizing Big Data. SAP offers a complete solution set from acquisition, to storage to analysis and visualization to mobility to keep the consumerization simple.

AR: Q3. Is "talent crunch" a real problem in Big Data? What has been your personal experience around it?

big-data-talentJS: I believe there is talent shortage related to Big Data. From Data Science to those who really understand the various related technologies. This comes from not only what analysts are and have been saying, but also from customer's need and pain.

There is and continues to be a skills shortage that impacts businesses trying to effectively leverage Big Data. This is why companies are often confused in how or if they can derive value from Big Data. That skills shortage will likely drive adoption of cloud where in-house skills are less key.

This skills shortage is also one of the reasons that SAP has embarked on its s-innovation strategy and provides solutions like SAP Sales Insight for Retail. To help companies and business users without the need for extensive in-house skill sets.

AR: Q4. What advice would you give to firms who are trying to make Big Data an integral part of their business strategy?

JS: Start with a business focus and not a tactical IT infrastructure discussion. Identify what top business priorities can benefit from Big Data in the organization. big-data-strategyUnderstand how they will engage people and processes to drive desired results. Once this is in place then look to see what technological platform innovation is needed to support the solution and what plan is needed to execute the project. This is SAP’s approach and through its Data Science team and Big Data workshops it is able to help companies do just this. Start with the business need and value and work toward the right technological solution from there.

Second part of the interview.