Big opportunities for big data in untapped industries

Big data has the potential to cut operating costs by nearly 50% across all sectors of manufacturing.

Get Satisfaction makes several interesting claims about opportunities for big data in an infographic released this month. Market segments such as manufacturing are generating far more data (966 petabytes in 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute survey, from which Get Satisfaction drew its numbers) than the technology sector, and there is a massive opportunity here. However, there are issues to address before providers of big data solutions such as Cloudera and Splunk can explore these possibilities. McKinsey, for example, estimates that the United States will need 140,000–190,000 more data workers than it is producing. And among the potential beneficiaries in manufacturing and elsewhere, there may not be the recognition that their data is of value, or that big data tools may be able to help them.

For more information on the opportunities offered to big data companies by non-traditional markets, and the difficulties big data providers might have in realizing them, see my latest weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

IT Needs an Urge to Conserve

Today’s data centers consume 0.5 percent of the world’s energy but are about as energy efficient as a poorly maintained Hummer is fuel efficient. But getting data centers to run more like a Prius is going to take a lot of work in areas that range from equipment design to the physical layout of the data center. IT shops need to get smarter about managing their equipment to fully utilize servers and storage assets as well.

A recent survey performed by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for the Uptime Institute lays out a clear picture of what IT managers and CIOs can do to make computing less of a drain on the resources of both companies and the Earth. The survey concludes that the cost of managing a data center is rising to the point where it’s affecting the operations of companies’ core businesses.

The report dismisses the idea that new technology and equipment are needed, saying instead that conservation could be used to double energy efficiency in the next four years and halt the growth of greenhouse gases caused by data centers. It also suggests a few key things to bring costs and energy usage into line. Suggestions include making sure data centers increase the utilization of their servers from an average of 6 percent through the use of virtualization. Improving efficiency by decommissioning older servers is also recommended.

Another way to conserve costs and energy is to assign responsibility for conservation to the CIO and to get executives involved in making decisions about data centers and IT. Finally, the report calls for an industry-wide efficiency metric for data centers, although as we’ve previously argued, getting such a metric in place will be a challenge. Doing these things should both decrease energy use but also increase the bottom line, which makes conservation a green solution indeed.

Pixar’s Brad Bird on Fostering Innovation

This week The McKinsey Quaterly asks: what does stimulating the creativity of animators have in common with developing new product ideas or technology breakthroughs? Apparently, a lot.

In Innovation lessons from Pixar, McKinsey writes:

Brad Bird makes his living fostering creativity. Academy Award-winning director (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) talks about the importance, in his work, of pushing teams beyond their comfort zones, encouraging dissent, and building morale. He also explained the value of “black sheep”—restless contributors with unconventional ideas.

Steve Jobs hired him, says Bird, because after three successes (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2) he was worried Pixar might struggle to stay innovative. Jobs told him: “The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out,” Bird quotes his boss as saying “…We want you to come shake things up.” Bird explains to McKinsey how he did it — and why, for “imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.”

The piece is behind McKinsey’s pay wall, but we extract its 9 key lessons below. Read More about Pixar’s Brad Bird on Fostering Innovation

Here comes Ubuntu Mobile

CluttersmallOne thing that the Asus EEE PC has shown us is that Linux makes a great OS for getting online and using limited resources very nicely.  Dwight Silverman pointed me today to Ubuntu Mobile which looks to make any mobile PC online friendly and ready to hit the road.  Ubuntu Mobile is an open-source project that brings all of the online activities we love to do right to our fingertips.  It’s a touch friendly OS so that is a literal description.  From the Ubuntu Mobile web site:

Ubuntu Mobile is an Ubuntu edition that targets an exciting new class of computers called Mobile Internet Devices.
UbuntuMobile, based on the world’s most popular Linux distribution, and MIDhardware from OEMs and ODMs, are redefining what can be done in mobilecomputing.

Ubuntu Mobile, a fully open source project, gives full Internet,with no compromise. Custom options may include licensed codecs andpopular third-party applications.

  • Full Web 2.0/AJAX fidelity, with custom options of Adobe Flash®, Java, and more
  • Outstanding media playback so you can enjoy videos, music and photos with superior quality and easy navigation
  • A suite of applications that work seamlessly to meet every need of a digital parent, student or anyone who is on-the-go
  • Facebook®, MySpace®, YouTube®, Dailymotion®, 3D games, GPS, maps,in short, the full Web 2.0 experience delivered into your hands as acompact and powerful device that’s easy and fun to use

The product of Canonical collaboration with Intel® and the opensource community, Ubuntu Mobile is the software that makes it allpossible.

Head over to the web site and see how complete this flavor of Ubuntu is for mobile PCs.

How to Prepare Your Startup for the Downturn

McKinsey blasted us again yesterday, this time with its foreboding “Special Collection: Coping with a downturn.” Every day the signs of our coming recession grow clearer, so it’s time to start rationing and stockpiling — or diversifying, depending on your business type. Only you can make the call about what strategy is best for your startup, but one thing is sure: find a way to build flexibility into your b-model.
McKinsey offers specific guidance on how to do this in Preparing for the next downturn. Having studied 1,300 companies, the article details the winning strategies used to survive the last economic lull by Starbucks, Verizon and Talbots, and highights others in this handy chart. Read More about How to Prepare Your Startup for the Downturn

Phone companies scamming millions from consumers

Hidden inside this CNN piece about cell phone company surcharges was a nano-expose of T-Mobile’s most recent quarter. Catherine Zeta Jones’ wily charms were not the only reason Germans were able to attract more customers in the last quarter and perform better than everyone else in the mobile phone business. Actually, the real reason why the “wireless company’s revenues were up $1 per customer compared with the previous quarter. That was because T-Mobile, for the first time, counted as revenues two fees it tacks onto customer bills. Without those surcharges, the average revenue per customer would have dropped. The surcharges certainly make T-Mobile more attractive to investors — they added $58 million in revenue during the quarter.” These are not government mandated taxes, but instead these are just a way phone company quietly add a buck-or-two to your bill, and try and recoup normal business expenses such as “property taxes and the cost of posting their rates on the Web.” Companies’ advertised rates don’t include extra fees. For a company like Verizon, this means about $173 million a year. Read the article for the complete lowdown.