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September 11, 2015

Software integration on the big data wave

C-level briefing: Ambrose McNevin speaks with Ciaran Dynes, VP Talend about big data use cases from ending online cart abandonment to managing wind farms, shadow IT, competition for investment and ultimately making IT a revenue generator.

By Vinod

Software integration is more important than ever. It is no longer just about making disparate systems run more effectively but in today’s business world it is the platform for data integration.

And data integration is vital to modern business.

Any business at scale requires data at scale. Firms in the insurance sector are using data analysis to end years of ineffective cross selling. Online firms are doing customer behaviour analysis to reduce shopping cart abandonment and are driving sales by understanding the customer data. And industrial firms are using insight to drive the one per cent reduction in cost that can ease margin pressure and drive efficient operations.

The benefits are undeniable but there remain significant challenges being faced by IT.

Having been seen as a cost centre IT has faced underinvestment. But today business demands are increasing as lines of business want access to the data. But too often that data only exists in silos across different parts of the business.

Provide Better IT
In the absence of better IT business leaders will circumvent the IT function and go direct to suppliers.

The business, in response to demands placed on it from competitors, from changing market conditions or from revenue and profit requirements will start to do its own thing in regards to data. This leads to the dark world of shadow IT.

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For IT to have a role it must act.The issue is beyond being purely a technical problem says Ciaran Dynes, vice president of products at Talend. "There is competition internally for investment. This can lead to ‘my IT team is not good enough’ and then the business, because they have money, will start sourcing its own IT. This then perpetuates the problem that data is siloeed and fragmented."

How to engage IT with the business
First there is the technical challenge. Then there is the cultural challenge.

Forward thinking companies (and IT departments) recognise that retaining the control of governance of IT and the data is something in which you continuously invest. Often the first challenge is to locate the data. Then data must be integrated. Data needs to be classified at source. Data formats need to be clear. Data needs to be cleaned up. It needs daily governance.

Of course not all companies are forward thinking. Dynes says "We go in and up front we require clarification. Is the business invested in this mastering of data project because, if not, it will definitely fail."

The response is often that it was tried before and it didn’t work. But what is different today is that firms have turned the corner. Data is seen as a precious resource and organisations recognise that they must integrate the data.

"People are waking up to the fact that needed to invest a little more. That message is resonating in organisations and they accept they have to do it," he says.

Firms who engage with Talend usually have the same opening statement: "We need to sort out the data."

The Talend approach is to make IT into the data heroes. "We help create the business case. We go to the sponsors and talk about things like one click response. What’s your one click strategy? Amazon sells a billion products and can do so by connecting products, customers and suppliers to be a multi- billion dollar revenue generator by picking up buying patterns.

But behind that user experience of "1-click’ to purchase,one click is a world of complexsophisticate IT, ity connecting lots and lots of data.

Given that this is the type of experience people expect the question posed: "Have you a one click relationship with the your consumer?"

Business Case
Online consumer commerce firms such as the big retailers or those bricks and mortar grocers who invested heavily in web store fronts to integrate the physical and digital shopping experience are among the more obvious examples of cross sector customers who have engaged with Talend. Less obvious examples are the insurance companies who are traditional and slower but who have recognised multi-channel opportunities. Insurance firms are also driven to integrate their data to put a stop to double insurance sales, something regulators take a dim view of.

In the consumer space OTTO Group, the world’s second largest online retailer, knew that it had to address the issue of abandoned shopping carts on its web site.

The was done through predictive analytics using Hadoop and Spark and working with Talend to integrate systems which allowed the firm to detect customer information based on activity, history, browsing time, buying behaviour, time of day and then finding ways to incentivise shoppers not to abandon their carts.

In OTTO Group, a single IT team went from being a cost centre to being a revenue generator.

This means Talend resonates very strongly with the business user.

Industrial data
But data is not simply about engaging with the consumer. At an industrial level firms such as GE are looking for the one per cent. The one percent cost reduction.

In the energy space in areas such as wind farms monitoring of condition and performance can reduce mean time to failure. In areas such as New Mexico in the US which has 24,000 wind farms then understanding the data being generated can help prevent catastrophic event. When a wind turbine breaks the thing it is most likely to hit is another wind turbine.

Software integration
Talend provides the software to integrate disparate systems.

The firm provides the plumbing that is open and flexible. It can work with Oracle databases or open source vendors and at the other end work with the analytics vendors, the cloud platforms and the mobile vendors.

It is an open source company. "We tend to get better software just by simple usage because over time software tends to change. Be it desktop, mobile or cloud you have to be super agile to the newest trends. Hadoop is a good example, you have to be open and flexible and see what’s coming if you want to be the bridge between the data and the applications," says Dynes.

"We provide connectors and components. We have a core platform. We will write specialised components that get the data in and out. By having a standardised core we can standardise security and comms."

The Talend EMEA software teams are based at its development centres in France and Germany while its UK operations focus on sales

The software development environment was built on small teams of five or six people. It is a hacker – in a positive sense – environment. People are given a direction while being allowed to express themselves. Small teams create greater bonds and work faster. The only way to do this was by being an open source company and culture – this helps attract the young talent that Talend requires.

The Talend approach is to address data silos, engage IT with the business and provide real time customer engagement.

Dynes says: "We had to do things differently and we benefited both directly and indirectly. We caught a big wave of software being developed in a different way and integration being open, flexible and agile at a time when data is transforming business and being seen as a huge revenue driver. "

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