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Enterprise Approach to Big Data: Interview with Think Big Analytics CEO Ron Bodkin

07/09/2013 04:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2013

The open source movement has accelerated the development of new computer languages, including the scalable, inexpensive, Big Data Hadoop, OpenStack and its Grizzly platform, and the explosion of mobile apps development, which paved the way for market leaders in iOS and Android, but might give the edge to Android in years to come.

Aiming to become the leader in the Big Data movement for the enterprise, Think Big Analytics closed a $3 million seed round earlier this year, which included an investment from former Cisco executive Dan Scheinman.

Having met Think Big's CEO Ron Bodkin at the March GigaOm Structure Data conference in New York City, it was time to reach out to him to learn more about his growing company, whose mantra is "Making Big Data Come Alive."

For Think Big it's not about the framework or architecture. They are vendor-agnostic. Instead, their model revolves around three Is: Imagine, Illuminate, and Implement.

In other words, their service begins with meeting enterprise clients to layout groundwork with two more Is: Idea of data analytics as a solution--think roadmap--while identifying the technology tools needed to travel that road.

So instead of selling a physical software, application, or database architecture, Think Big brings their expertise of Big Data solutions to the table, brainstorms with the enterprise--the Imagine phase--to develop an organization ecosystem to see what data to analyze,
which is then followed by a proposed Big Data architect solution.

The Illuminate phase is a comprehensive approach to onsite training, mentoring, and "knowledge building to ensure staff can configure, administer, and manage Big Data investments."

The final Implementation phase of Think Big Analytics is twofold. First, assemble the correct components for the Big Data architecture. Second, tailor the solution to fit client needs, focusing on what workloads need to be monitored and what use cases to be followed.

The Start of Something 'Big'
"Where did Think Big get its start?" I asked CEO and founder Ron Bodkin in a telephone interview that included Anna Yen, VP of Marketing.

He replied, "Based on my VP of engineering role at Quantcast, in 2006 I saw this huge opportunity for a $100 million lookalike in advertising. Data science would play an integral role in Big Data with huge potential. For me, the Big Data journey began in the 1990s with my co-founding of the B2B applications provider C-Bridge. Today, Think Big Analytics is completing that journey and mission." He paused, and reflected, "It's about how to run a Big Data system and create value all around."

"What about creating value for the client?" I asked.

"Data science models are key, along with their integration. To get good payback on an investment in Big Data, there needs to be a good strategy, a roadmap, adjusting the course with seven to ten corrections at different stages of the journey. The point is to reduce the cost of going to scale," he said.

Making those corrections deep into a project or process and the costs of those late changes can explode by a factor or 100 or more.

"You can make incremental improvements, fix them along the way. But to transform a business it begins with making data analytics come alive in-house," he said.

"What has been the biggest challenge for Think Big from either a client or technology perspective?"

"The Biggest challenge is to get more people to bring to the team. In order for them to deliver, we need to train them on our approach. That takes time," Bodkin said. "To grow our model we must get results. That will allow us to keep scaling at a high level."

"What are the challenges for companies to transition to the BYOD and mobile platforms?" I asked.

"Mobility is the rekindling of innovation. Big Data is part of that trend. It complements the proliferation of capacity-driven solutions with a need for back-end infrastructure in more compelling ways. Now it's mobility's turn to bring value to the market, not just consumerization," he said.

Productivity and efficiency in the enterprise has been missing for years, as companies and entire industries suffered from siloed workers, buried or inert data, and fragmentation of workflow.

"Where are you in this stage in terms of projects for clients?"

"We have completed more than fifty Big Data projects with companies such as Facebook and NetApp, a number of large investment houses, banks, hedge and mutual funds, media and advertising companies. These projects are purpose-built, where we're seeing ambitious projects in the three-year history of our firm," Bodkin said, adding: "We closed on our seed round and we continue to grow our customer-base to grow revenue."

Think Big on the Future of Tech and Security
In asking the CEO what he thought about the four key drivers--Mobility, Internet of Things, Big Data, and Cloud--that will shape the technology of the future in McKinsey's 2025 report, he replied:

"Those are important trends. Perhaps the biggest trend along those lines is the Internet of Things," which will be systems that hyperconnect devices and sensors, as data-in-motion gets tracked, trolled, and analyzed at an exponential rate.

"The IoT movement will impact various tech companies in big ways, from logistics and supply chains with devices in the field, to lots of software in those devices. It's a real virtuous tech movement in that products you deploy will ramp up faster with greater volumes of data to be collected and analyzed," he said.

"There's a lot of excitement in Big Data as a whole," Anna Yen added. "Industries are in a nascent stage with respect to Big Data. They are looking at it, evaluating it, trying to figure out how they can use it for their needs. But to achieve the data science model, to build and implement it, that's where we come in."

"We encourage organizations to realize the value of Big Data, so they can be on the right path with their business and make the right investment," Mr. Bodkin said.

"How does Think Big advise clients on security in data loss prevention and recovery?"

"New capabilities is a force for good and a force for evil. Give more capacity to leading network providers, botnets and the number of latent threats mushroom. We need to improve our ability to collect data, which is really important for governments and corporations, so they can make proactive decisions--" on what data to secure. "More data volume grows the more it becomes a target for hackers. Yet, the use of Big Data techniques will be used to respond to bad actors."

"Any comment on the NSA data breach and its impact on Big Data or the cloud?" I asked.

"The NSA impact on consumer opinion will drive government regulatory action," Bodkin began to answer. "We're not going to drastically change our opinion or the international business of data in U.S. And it's not going to limit our scope to respond. Personally, I don't see any evidence on the freedom of information in context with the freedom of security being altered."

In the fallout of Edward Snowden and the NSA, I agree with his view.

The massive opportunity to change and improve the way we live, share, communicate, to transform laggard enterprises and industries, while drive data transparency into broken supply chains and business processes is an evolution of the modern world that Darwin couldn't even stop.