How Cisco wants to make big data a community affair

Updated. Cisco (s csco) has a plan for turning big data from a technological movement to a business model that everyone can get behind, and it’s hinged on the notion that large companies can serve as centralized big data repositories that will spur innovation across entire ecosystems. The company lays out its vision in a new whitepaper called “Unlocking Value in the Fragmented World of Big Data Analytics: How Information Infomediaries Will Create a New Data Ecosystem,” which it will release to the public soon.

The paper’s authors from Cisco’s Internet Business┬áSolutions Group argue that big data is a movement rife with possibilities but that’s still out of reach for many companies. During a recent interview, co-author William Gerhardt explained the problem as one of resources and standards. Small companies might not have the innovative minds or high-end technologies in-house to do big data right, he said, and every company large and small suffers when valuable data is locked inside individual companies’ databases or is made available in niche formats.

The solution to that problem, they claim, is the formation of so-called “information infomediaries” that will take care of the heavy lifting of aggregating, standardizing, packaging, securing and processing data from a variety of sources. Gerhardt compared big data ecosystems to other complex ecosystems such as credit card processing and banking, where infomediaries take the reins and provide centralized services to nearly everyone in their industries. We need to simplify this ecosystem or it will fail, he told me.

At the least, it will stall in the early stages of Cisco’s big data evolution chart. In that model, Wave 1 is simple analytics contained within departments and Wave 2 is advanced, actionable and company-wide analytics. Wave 3 is the holy grail — an industry-wide ecosystem where companies and consumers can share data freely and expect a more-predictive analytic experience. According to Gerhardt, most businesses today are stuck in Wave 1.

Chris Osika, another member of Cisco’s IBSG division, predicts these big data ecosystems will actually help mitigate some of the privacy pitfalls that companies face. With the involvement of legal scholars and some creative cooperation among companies, they could do a lot to offer rich services to customers without resorting to “radioactive” practices such as simply selling customers’ data. Of course, as we’ll discuss in some detail at our Structure: Europe event in Amsterdam next month, wide-ranging privacy and data sovereignty laws mean creating international ecosystems could be a tough chore.

And if you’re reading this thinking it odd that Cisco doesn’t appear to have a horse in this race, think again. The whitepaper highlights the importance of the network in terms of providing context across the local networks, the internet and the Internet of Things, and then being able to take action through the various control points along the way. The team’s next step is really digging down to figure out the best way to use network intelligence to spur companies from the first wave to the second wave, Gerhardt said.

In fact, the network is in some ways what provides the most value to Cisco’s proposition given the fast-growing collection of data marketplaces and cloud-based big data services that already make it easier to access resources and analyze data sets. For latency-agnostic applications, “the cloud becomes the great equalizer,” Gerhardt said. But Cisco envisions a world of low-latency applications analyzing and acting on data at network speed, which might require faster networks and techniques such as edge calculations and keeping business logic inside routers.

That would be something, alright, but we’re a long way off.

Update: Cisco’s whitepaper is now available here.