Strata Keynoters show big data in action

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One by one, speakers lined up at the Strata Conference this week and told stories that sounded like the opposite of doing business in a trough of disillusionment.

Rajat Taneja, CTO of Electronic Arts, said his company could not have kept gamers satisfied without the benefit of big data analytics. Along with the phenomenal growth in the number of online gamers, came the realization that the old ways of shipping products to users did little to establish relationships with them and did less for understanding how the games were being perceived and used.

Games such as "Battlefield" crank out 1TB of data per day and even "The Simpsons" generates 150 GB per day, as a global marketplace makes gaming a 24/7 activity.

So, one year ago the company fundamentally rethought its architecture to better manage the deluge of data and scale properly. It had to move from what Taneja said was a descriptive look at its business to a predictive one. And since gamers were playing on multiple devices, it needed a single view of how the games were performing for each and how users played differently on each device.

In the end, it moved from big iron to a Hadoop platform using MapReduce and new algorithms to do propensity modeling.

"Data is only a means to an end. There has to be a good understanding of what the data will be used for," Taneja said. The company was able to see where users were getting stuck or quitting or having other issues and get their feedback to improve the game. "Our main focus has to be how we help the customer. Everything else flows naturally from that," Taneja said.

Scott Yara, founder of Greenplum, now a division of EMC, said that despite some early struggles with the concepts at Greenplum, today is a very different story for EMC and the industry as a whole. "In 2013 money is changing hands. You are seeing the emergence of business in big data," Yara said.

He also said that in 2013, companies needed to start focusing on collaboration, and not just amongst a few friends but on the level of democracy. Within that collaboration and within that data, he said, are the insights to solving some of the world's biggest problems.

And Eric Colson, CAO of Stitch Fix, showed how his apparel startup is blending big data analytics and human fashion experts to develop relationships with shoppers. Stitch Fix chooses the clothes it "knows" its customers will like and ships them even without an order, confident that its process has chosen wisely.

"It's a bold business model. If we get it wrong we will pay a huge cost and alienate customers. It really relies on big data," Colson said.

For more:
- see the Strata Keynotes

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