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July 30, 2015

Born out of CERN, Blue Yonder collides with skills gap

C-level briefing: Blue Yonder founder Prof. Dr. Michael Feindt, and Strahan Wilson CFO, EAT, discuss outsourced predictive analytics.

By James Nunns

The Big Data skills gap is well documented in holding back the market, with those in the Hadoop market and software providers seeking to fill that gap with training and tools for business. The answer, however, may come in the form of Analytics-as-a-Service.

By providing solutions such as predictive analytics in an outsourced model, SMB’s can reap the benefits of their data without the need for costly platforms and lengthy integrations.

CBR spoke with Prof. Dr. Michael Feindt, Founder & Chief Scientific Advisor of Blue Yonder, about how the solution born out of CERN is solving the Big Data skills gap.

Having realised that the same algorithm that was written for CERN analysis could be applicable to other areas, such as commerce, Feindt set about founding Blue Yonder and doing predictive analytics.

Where the company is different from a Tableau or SAP is that instead of providing the tools for the business to use, the company does all the predictive leg work.

Feindt, said: "We want to make an economic prediction of what happens tomorrow or next week. To know how many of each many of each item will be sold say in 2 days time."

Instead of just giving the number of how many will be sold, the company gives a probability curve of all the possible outcomes of the future. This is based upon numerous different factors, including historical sales, weather and whether or not it’s a holiday.

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Strahan Wilson, CFO, EAT told CBR why it is deploying Blue Yonder: "Big Data is creating some major skills challenges. In our world, if it can be analysed in Excel then all is well. Ff it needs to be analysed outside excel you start venturing into IT, into databases and when you start going into Big Data you start getting beyond your capabilities."

EAT had deployed an in-house model, which Wilson explained had become essentially redundant. Highlighting the kind of problems that the skills gap creates, the company had paid a consultant to build the model and then disappeared.

Without the skills to maintain the model the company had the choice of either paying someone to come in to update it, or look elsewhere.

While the company had looked at some of Blue Yonder’s rivals’, Wilson, said: "Competitors said that they still wanted to get their money’s worth, so we would still need to pay the consulting fee upfront."

EAT has put its business in the hands of Blue Yonder, Wilson explained that the company is in effect in charge of ordering for its stores, which if it goes wrong would cost a lot of money.

As Wilson explains, the benefit of the as-a-Service model is that there are relatively low costs to the buyer.

Instead of being tied to a platform, hardware or faced with messing around with legacy systems, EAT was able to make the decision to deploy Blue Yonder in a month. This kind of decision making and agility isn’t necessarily available from other solutions.

Of course, Blue Yonder is somewhat unique, not every company can claim to be using 80 PHD Data Scientists which work at CERN.

What was surprising when speaking to Feindt was his awareness of concepts such as vertical databases 10 years ago, something that he says the High Energy Physicists were aware of 25 years ago.

This is just one example of science being some way ahead of the tech industry, with the data scientists working with vast amounts of data long before it was dubbed Big Data.

Edoardo Martelli, Head of the Communication Engineering, IT Communication Systems Group at CERN, said that in a year 27 Petabytes are produced.

The tech industry could do well by looking closely at what scientists are doing in order to get a head start on what could be the next big breakthrough.

Feindt wasn’t critical of the tech industry not being aware of some of these technologies, instead he explained: "I think simply that different communities don’t look at others, they focused on their own that they don’t look at other areas.

"There are different concepts everywhere and usually people don’t know what happens elsewhere, they only attend physics conferences or physics magazines.

"Up until 10 years ago I only had view of high energy physicists. So just moving from one area to another you see what can be done."

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