Tapping into the power of others

watson_computerLast week, I read with interest the announcement that IBM was opening up their Watson computing platform to outside organizations and developers to use to build upon the cognitive computing and natural language processing of the platform.

This is a big step for organizations of all sizes, but especially those in the small and midmarkets. The type of computing power offered by Watson is something that small and medium sized organizations could never hope to have access to on their own.

Along with the announcement, IBM released the names of three companies using Watson’s powerful computing capabilities. These three companies are all smaller organizations who would struggle to find access to a fraction of the computing power they now have access to with Watson.

I’ve argued in the past that big data can level the playing field for the small and medium business (SMB). SMB’s have been able to take advantage of the various resources available in the cloud for computing and storage, but they’ve rarely had access to computing power like Watson.

Imagine being a small business with an idea for a new product or service that requires an enormous amount of computing power to model the new service. Currently, you’d have to invest a great deal of money in hardware and/or cloud services to get started. Even with this investment, you may not have the full computing environment required to build your business.

That is where the power of the opening of Watson comes in. With a few API calls, you can access one of the most powerful computing platforms in the world. Imagine what that power can do for your business.

As a small or medium sized organization, you have to take every advantage that you can find to keep up with or surpass your larger competitors. The opening up of Watson adds just one more advantage to the SMB.
IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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IBM versus Amazon – The Cloud War?

3384439545_72c4706549_mI just read Why IBM Will Win the War With Amazon Web Services over on CIO.com and felt the need to publish my own thoughts.

In that article, the author writes the following regarding the IBM vs Amazon war:

IBM is gearing up for war. Since Amazon is mucking around in IBM’s space, the folks in Armonk should have the positional advantage. I focus here on IBM’s strengths compared to Amazon’s weaknesses largely because Amazon isn’t fundamentally an IT solutions provider. Rather, Amazon is a successful retailer that found a low-cost way to provide services through their retail model to IT. Typically, these efforts don’t survive; in the face of focused competition, they aren’t adjacent to the firm’s core business (retail, in Amazon’s case). IBM is honed in, once again, on proving this well tested theory.

The author is focused on the wrong thing. It appears he’s trying to set himself to be able to point back to this article in the future and claim he was ‘right”.  But…he has to be right for that to work. A better focus, at least in my opinion, would be to focus on what the IBM systems and solutions can do for organizations versus those offered by Amazon.

The ‘war’ between IBM and Amazon is one that will be interesting to watch, but means diddly-squat to the working IT professional.  Additionally, most organizations in the Small to Medium space can’t even begin to think about using IBM for anything they offer…they just don’t have the budget for IBM, or at least they don’t believe they do.

Rather than try to argue about how IBM will win (or why Amazon will win), I’ll simply say the following:

It doesn’t matter who ‘wins’ between IBM or Amazon because organization’s have already won.

Amazon has delivered a fast, efficient and scalable product that can be used by anyone.  You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to take advantage of the services and products available via Amazon.

If you are the CIO of a medium to large organization, maybe this ‘war’ means something to you, but for most other CIO’s and IT professionals, it means nothing.  These folks are rightly worried about keeping the lights on and delivering the services their organizations and customers need.

Regardless who wins this ‘war’, organization’s have already won.

Image Credit: Storm Clouds on Flickr

Big data – it’s all relative

Last month I wrote a post titled “Is Big Data to Big for Small Business?” where I asked the questions:

Is there a place for small organizations in the world of big data? Can small businesses take advantage of this ‘big data’ stuff?  Are small business’ data-sets even large enough to be considered ‘big data’?

While I’m happy about the outcome of that post, I’m actually a bit embarrassed that I didn’t address an even bigger question that should be the first question asked when talking about “big data”.

That question is this: What does “big” mean?

According to a report published by the IBM Institute for Business Value in conjunction with the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, over half of respondents to a survey think that the ‘big’ in big data refers to the size of the dataset and that size lays somewhere between a terabyte and a petabyte of data. That’s quite large and is a good definition of ‘big’.

So…rather than ask the questions that I previously asked about there being a place in Big Data for small business, the more appropriate first question could  have been – How “big” is “big”?  And then, if ‘big’ is actually relative, are the skills needed for big data the same regardless of size of data?

Big IS relative.  A terabyte of data to a large organization may be very simple to analyze using available tool-sets while the same size of data may be a complete impossibility for a small business to collect – let alone analyze. A terabyte of data for a $1Billion company could be relatively the same size as a gigabyte of data is to a $100Million company.

Regardless of the numerical size of ‘big’ in the big data, the skill sets for analyzing that data remain the same. A small business may only have a 500 megabyte data-set, but the analytical process to find the knowledge in that data is the same as if that data-set was 500 terabytes.  Some of the tools may be different, but the process remains the same.

For any organization, the process of ‘doing’ big data is relatively the same. Everyone is looking for knowledge in data. A large organization may have a team of 20 people working on big data and have millions of dollars invested in tools, systems and process for analyzing that data.  This large organization might have a whole team of people that focus strictly on the operations of big data and another team focus on analyzing and visualizing this data.  At the same time, a small business might only have one person looking at data in their spare time using a combination of excel and other non-specialized tools.  While one organization has a large number of resources available to spend on big data and the other has very few resources, both approach the process the same…collect, verify, compare, contextualize, analyze and use the data.  Then repeat.

The previously mentioned IBM Report, titled Analytics: The real-world use of big data, has this to say about the ‘process’ of big data:

The promise of achieving significant, measurable business value from big data can only be realized if organizations put into place an information foundation that supports the rapidly growing volume, variety and velocity of data.

Well said. This sentence delivers a great deal of value to any organization.

Regardless of the ‘volume’ of data, the foundational aspects of collecting and storing data are key. Whether multi-terabytes or multi-megabytes of storage is required, the underlying principles are the same. Data needs to be collected, stored and prepared for analysis.

Regardless of size of organization or data-set, the process of ‘doing’ big data remains the same: collect, verify, compare, contextualize, analyze and use the data. Repeat as necessary.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Join me on InfoBOOM – a community for small and midsized business leaders

I’ve just joined IBM’s InfoBOOM community.

I hadn’t heard of InfoBOOM until last week when I was asked to join as one of their compensated experts.  I was intrigued by the offer and am happy they reached out to me.  While I am being compensated to write a few blog posts on InfoBOOM, I’m happy to be a part of the community and am impressed with what I’m  seeing over there.

As an introduction to InfoBOOM, here’s a quote from the website:

InfoBOOM is the IBM community created for business leaders who want to share their opinions and expertise. Each month, a new topic is up for discussion and the community is invited to weigh in.

This online community drives the dialog by commenting, asking and answering thought provoking questions, and writing posts. Every participant helps to define what should be top of mind for mid-size business and to build his or her own reputation.

Would you like to share your opinions and validate strategic thinking with like-minded peers? Then please join InfoBOOM and start connecting with other business leaders to discuss the topics that matter most to you.

What I like most about InfoBOOM is that its filling a nice niche for small and medium sized businesses who are often overlooked in these types of communities and articles about business.

The topics on InfoBOOM are exciting ones. Topics like Information Governance, Business AnalyticsSocial Media for Business Leaders are others are extremely topical and interesting.

Take the recent post by Dana Gardner on Why HTML5 enables more businesses to deliver more apps to more mobile devices?…the post does a very good job of explaining the concept of HTML5 and why small and medium businesses need to be looking at this great new development ‘platform’.  Another interesting post is Paul Gillin’s recent Question of the week: Will tablets replace desktops?

Great stuff over there.

Won’t you join me over at infoBOOM? I’ll be posting a blog post per week over there on various topics…but don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging here on my regular schedule.