Data + CDOs  |  Sharmila Mulligan  |  December 5, 2012

It’s Time to Change How Data is Used

You don’t need to hire an expert in geospatial analysis to get driving directions from your mobile phone. Or bring on an expert in search algorithms to get a quick response to a Google query.

We get data every day, quickly and easily. We take these data-intensive actions for granted.

Why, then, is everything so much more difficult when businesses try to use data? At a time when data is increasingly recognized as the business currency of the 21st Century, companies are stuck with 20th Century tools when they try to work with it.

Data is exploding. Data is dispersed.

Vital business information now resides not just on your desktop computer and in your company’s databases or data warehouse. It’s also in new “big data” platforms like Hadoop. It’s outside the walls of your company, too. Specialized data vendors maintain petabytes of information about every conceivable product, place, trend, spend, market segment, behavior and customer. And the popularity of clickstreams, reviews, tweets, ‘likes’ and other social data presents a trove of new business insights for companies smart enough to be able to separate their signal from their noise.

However there’s no single easy way of accessing this information. Instead, managers and analysts are presented with complex interfaces to data platforms, a Babel of third-party APIs, high-priced analytic frameworks and silos of point products that each require a small army of tech-savvy data specialists, all of them deeply entrenched in their individual worlds. Simply retrieving a sliver of data from a single database or web site can be a chore; harder still is combining data from multiple internal and external sources. Even with the data in hand, you’re still faced with the challenge of force-fitting it into one of the cumbersome analytics or “visualization” products now on the market. Throw data at massive scale into the picture, and most of these products abruptly grind to a halt.

Data-driven companies have many distributed data teams.

Today’s most successful businesses are agile enterprises that shun staid hierarchies and rigid bureaucracies in favor of constantly-evolving teams that come together, solve a problem, and then disperse to find new challenges. But these ad hoc teams are badly-served by the traditional corporate data retrieval model, in which tools and expertise are tightly controlled by an IT department. These distributed teams need data solutions that are as flexible as they are.

Big, dispersed data mandates a new way of looking at things.

Today’s most popular data viewing approach — the dashboard — is in fact one of the least useful. It’s a rear-view mirror look at the business, based on events of the past. Because they are built on rigid data models, dashboards are not a reflection of how the business is doing right now. Business users have relied on them only because there have been few alternatives. As data-driven businesses evolve, traditional dashboards will be relevant to fewer and fewer tasks.

At ClearStory, we think it’s time to modernize data analysis – all the way from the user model to the data pipeline. For starters, this means recognizing that not all data is born and lives inside your company. There are great stocks of it emerging from the web and from specialized data providers. When intelligently combined with your own data, this information can lead to valuable new insights about your business.

We at ClearStory have rethought everything about how companies should do data. How they find it, both inside and outside their organizations. How they collect, combine, refine, picture and analyze it. How they swap their data-driven insights with others. And how they can quickly repeat the process, using speedy iterations to reach even fresher insights in a business environment that never stops changing.

ClearStory is accomplishing all this by re-imagining not only the end user experience of data analysis, but also by reworking the behind-the-scenes connections to disparate data sources and how it’s all processed. We make finding, querying and interacting with data — even when it requires numerous operations across multiple internal and external data sets — as easy as getting directions from your mobile driving app.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about ClearStory’s new approach to diverse data analysis in the coming months. Our goal is to fundamentally change the way businesses work with data, turning the whole business of big data on its head. We are re-thinking everything about data collection and analysis from the point of view of a business user eager to get answers to time-sensitive business questions. No business user or analyst today has the time to train as a data source expert or an analytics genius. Nor can they afford to wait for an overtaxed IT department.

Today’s business users need rigorous and speedy data analysis to always be at their fingertips, much like the Internet itself. And just like your favorite website or smart phone app, a modern data tool should be not only useful, but also pleasant — even enjoyable — to spend time with. There is certainly nothing pleasant or enjoyable about doing battle with the volumes of diverse data that confront business users every single day. Changing that is ClearStory’s mission, and we welcome you to join us.

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