Data Reigns Supreme at The Cloud Factory

As posted by DataGravity April 15, 2014

On April 7th, DataGravity CEO and Co-founder Paula Long and I headed to the Canadian Rockies to attend The Cloud Factory for a few days of sessions at the Banff Center. Majestically situated in the heart of Banff, just 90-minutes away from Calgary, the event was attended by hundreds of senior technology leaders and executives, and dealt with issues around cloud technologies and storage.

The speaking format was interesting – 15-minute speaking sessions gave it a TED-talk feel, and allowed for the conference to cover many important topics without breaking out into multiple tracks. We took part in a lunch-and-learn session, in which Paula and I discussed the subject of unstructured data: the 800 pound gorilla that everyone in IT and technology recognizes, but struggles with.  We started by defining what unstructured data is and then dove deeper into how metadata and text analytics can be used to derive useful information and help organizations gain competitive edge.

Highlighting the importance of understanding and managing privacy, Michelle Dennedy, the chief privacy officer of McAfee Software, had a speaking session of her own and also participated in a panel on privacy.  Her session, titled “The Privacy Manifesto” outlined the framework and conceptual infrastructure required to manage privacy. In the panel discussion, Dennedy made the point that while data sovereignty is a hot-button issue at the moment, it does nothing to actually protect data from the ill-intentioned when storing it in the cloud. No wonder many businesses are reevaluating how they store data in the cloud and are thinking hard about where they store their business-critical data.

There were also a number of Canadian startups that gave their pitches to the audience over the course of the two days of the conference as part of the Canadian Cloud Showdown. Each of the startups had limited time to explain why their solutions were going to be the next big thing.

My favorite pitch was by a company collecting, aggregating and using data that is typically tracked by hand and on paper. Called FarmAtHand, the startup offers a free app that farmers can use to track, update and access information about their farming operations. The data collected across many farms can be aggregated to provide key insights to increase yields and select the right crops, not to mention tracking what’s selling.  Their presentation was well done, and it gave me a real appreciation for the transformative power of data and technology, especially in a sector of the economy that has been overlooked by IT for so long.

Of course, most interesting was the panel featuring Paula Long, Doug Cutting of Hadoop fame, John Foreman of Mailchimp, and Jake Flomenberg of Accel Partners. Chaired byAlistair Croll of CloudOps Research, the panel was called “The Age of Useful(less) Information.” It focused on the subject of data and how important it is to identify and use the data that is at hand that can add business value. Paula hit the nail on the head when she said that data scientists are some of the most important people today, but that is a temporary affair. Soon, that role will transform into a “data storyteller,” who can interpret complex data and put it in the context of the business.  These data storytellers may not be computer science majors, and their diverse backgrounds will help give voice to the data that is stored so that users will be able to understand not only the data but the context, as well.

Other key points Paula made include the problems that arise when businesses want to keep all the data, how unstructured data demands context, and how the tools businesses use to review and categorize stored data need to be quicker and smarter.  One of her most interesting points was that it is crucial to make data-driven decisions, but that businesses should resist the temptation to live solely by the observable data. If they choose to do so, they may be in danger of analysis paralysis or worse, not taking the chances they should to succeed.

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