Oracle and SAP keep fighting a war of words over whose technology is bigger and better. They could learn a lot from Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini's big data work.
Now P&G is on a mission to run its business in real time, with the ability to predict the future. It wants to make better, faster decisions, based on rigor, not gut-level, fluffy information. To achieve that, Passerini is directing the build-out of 50 "business spheres," which are video-based rooms around the world. The rooms are literally round, with screens surrounding its occupants, immersing them in data, and putting them face-to-face with counterparts in the ultimate collaborative cocoon. None of the technology--which is comprised of 12 different technology components--was built in house, but "the way we assembled it is where the IP is," Passerini said.
P&G's IT shop has created an uncompromising view of the business, working to create something that is, in Passerini's words, "attractive," and presenting information that business leaders had never been able to see before, at least not in one place. Passerini said this was done to entice those business leaders to embrace new ways of looking at information. Or as he put it: "I believe there are situations in business where it is strategic to put the cart before the horse, because otherwise the horse will never come." In other words, blow your business partners away and they'll fund IT initiatives ... although it hardly seems as if Passerini would ever find that to be a challenge.
Passerini continued to deliver gem after gem. For more, watch the video embedded below. It is one of the most compelling case studies in transforming a business around data that you may ever hear. While Passerini surely had to consider what technology would best deliver on P&G's goals, he didn't once mention the number of processors powering this information democratization, or how much memory he thought his systems would need, or how important Infiniband was to the transfer speed of his data. All important aspects to his ultimate technology choice, perhaps, but not part of his everyday lexicon.
And notice--at about 38 minutes into the video--Passerini talks about SAP, which provides a very standard, vanilla ERP environment for P&G, and then about Oracle, whose Exadata sits behind P&G's data warehouse; those two companies whose bravado has lately fueled an entire economy of media and analyst professionals. Perhaps each has been roped in by the other, now a bit off course and off message, or at least speaking a language that is a bit foreign to the ears of the modern CIO.
The future is at stake.
Passerini talked further about the need to pull in point-of-sale data, market data, consumer relevance data, and simulation data, and to bring it all together in a way that could deliver new meaning in a more predictive way. "I believe there is nothing more important for us than to be able to predict when we launch a new initiative, a new brand, a new product, a new packaging." And here's the really important part: "We haven't cracked this nut yet. I believe this is the next stage of breakthrough opportunity."
That is what Oracle and SAP should be fighting for.
Yes, we get it: The technology will be necessary to accomplish all of this, and choosing the right pieces will be vital. But it is getting more difficult to determine whose solution will really transform business the way Passerini envisions it. The answers are getting lost in the price-performance metrics and the terabytes (or half terabytes), and the inevitable one-upsmanship. It is all starting to sound the same, and none of it is in the language of P&G -- it is in the language of machismo and mojo.
To liberally paraphrase Passerini, Oracle and SAP don't just need to run faster, they need to change the way they run.
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