Month: March 2017

“Tame” the data makers

I’ve heard of “taming data.” But the week before last at Strata I heard it in a new context: taming behavior.

Taming data has been “nichy,” as fellow TDWI writer Steve Swoyer puts it. He says, “It doubtless explains the etymology of, for example, Tamr.”

But Swoyer pushes on from there, as Swoyer knows how to do.

[Notice the] consonance between to wrangle and to tame. Both are grounded in the same metaphorical frame. Both are grounded in the same metaphor. This pre-conscious framing/understanding of the issue is more interesting than the stupid terms.

Former IBM sales engineer Lamont Lockwood, now the “Integration Expert,” sees two definitions. One is simple: to straighten and calm streaming data. “You don’t have time to fix it later,” he explains. “You need smart models to keep up.”

That leads to Lamont’s second, “nefarious” definition: taming the users who produce the data. “You’ll be trackable every day and every minute,” he muses, “like call-center workers….This is happening.”

Schmarzo: An over-infatuation with data

The “Dean of Big Data,” Bill Schmarzo, said what I think few of his peers would say on the record: “We have an over-infatuation with data.”

Yet there it was, in the Marriott lobby adjoining last week’s Strata+Hadoop conference in San Jose, CA.

Before you can decide on your data, he insists, you have to decide on your decisions. He said, “That is clearly the biggest challenge in the ‘smart’ conversation,” such as in establishing a “smart city.”

Schmarzo, who is by day Dell EMC CTO, jumped into the “smart city” conversation recently when he joined the San Jose, CA Innovation Advisory Board. His first question was to the airport CTO: what decisions do you face? From there, they could choose data. Must they spot beacons over the terminals, for example, or to use the cheaper and readily available MAC addresses? Such choices could make a difference to that CTO and any tax-starved cities on their way to “smart.”

I asked how people react when he suggests easing up on collecting data willy nilly, consuming it like junk food binges? He paused. “So far, the vast majority are relieved,” he said. “They don’t know what to do with all the data.”

“We over-complicate things, and data vendors are the most guilty,” he said. “They talk about smart this and smart that. And they say ‘You gotta have this technology and these gateways.’ But what will you do with that?”

There’s still one more thing to do: explain the decisions. How can you make the data be made interesting not only for the mayor but the citizens, too? “What I don’t know how to do,” he said, “is how to tell a story around it.”

A horse race in town: Chief Data Officer vs Chief Reliance Officer

Smart City, the movement, has a horse race underway. At stake: Who will sit closer to the mayor or city manager?

Chief Data Officer, the darling of the data crowd, was out of the gate first. Four lengths behind and gaining, though, is a dark horse. It’s Chief Resilience Officer, favorite of the humanists. He’s breathing hard and coming up fast. Whoever wins will subsume the other.

If Chief Data Officer wins, the city’s chief executive will feel the sway of CDO’s data-driven whispers. All other things being equal, decisions will rely on data analysis.

But if Chief Resilience Officer pulls off a surprise win, the chief executive will hear her slightly more humanist whispers. Data will be a factor, but so will empathy. Here’s how the group 100 Resilient Cities begins to explain resilience:

[Resilience is] the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

I don’t see how that’s done without a big dose of data analysis. What modern process goes without it? The difference is scope: tending toward cold and narrow or toward broad and warm?

Each horse has a cheering section in the stands. Naturally, the data people — data analysts, data stewards, “data scientists,” data people of all kinds — root for the chief data officer. “Run, CDO, run!” To many of them, data is not merely a reflection of the world, it is the world itself.

Nearby them is a small crowd cheering for the chief resilience officer. “Run, CRO, run!” Data’s good, they agree, but there’s more to running a city or living in it.

Within business, the CDO, the data guy, would be the obvious winner. Data is tangible. It’s new and shiny, and it’s got that science-and-research allure of cold certainty.

But this is a city. Warmth and comfort matters, not just “truth” and cold facts. People — the voting populace — have lives to live there in that city.

Which crowd do I stand with? I’m always for the dark horse.

improved urban decision making

…the smart city movement is less about technology and more about improving the way decisions are made in large urban areas, where the demand for services is increasing and the availability of resources is diminishing.”

Michael Flowers, as interpreted by Mike Barlow in a 2015 O’Reilly report, Smart Cities, Smarter Citizens. Flowers is now chief analytics officer at

Narrative and analytics: brothers

Dave Wells, my collaborator in a TDWI course on data storytelling, tears up a popular misconception about data storytelling and data analytics.

On the surface, narrative storytelling appears to be the opposite of analytics – anecdotal instead of quantitative. But quantities aren’t the only way, or necessarily the ideal way to convey information. Not everyone in business is a quant who thinks natively in numbers. Some think in pictures, thus the popularity of data visualization: “Show me the shape of things, not the quantities. …” Visualization is powerful, but even more powerful is the ability to connect visuals, and to tell a story with data.

Read the full post.