The Misperception of New Technology – Big Data Edition

Big Data is the answer. It will provide the new customer insights to propel your company to the market leader and do so faster, cheaper, and utilize your existing resources. I’m sure this claim smells a bit to you and with good reason. There are adages for a reason and if “it seems to good to be true then it likely is” seems fitting in this case.

It’s easy to leverage buzzwords in our daily conversations, sales pitches, and marketing materials without really understanding what they mean. Some of today’s buzzwords like “Big Data”, “The Cloud”, “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS), and “machine learning” are commonly used in interchangeable ways. For example if you’re a SaaS based company with traditional hosting in data centers are you cloud-based or not. If you are then what happens if you transition to AWS? Are you more clouded? I joke to show that there are always gaps between what words mean and how they are actually used.

I’m walking this road today because of an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Joys and Hype of Software Called Hadoop” (http://j.mp/1qZFiAO) and what noise I think it is. The primary point of the piece seems to be that Hadoop and many Hadoop based companies like Hortonworks haven’t been able to meet the expectations of the marketplace and while I don’t dispute that because its always easy to wag a finger at technologies I think the article only touches on the bigger point of using the right technology for the right thing in the right way; and that point is the inherently tougher solve in today’s enterprises.

Big data offers many advantages over traditional technologies like databases and data warehouses. First is the ability to horizontally scale which allows a faster, cheaper (both in hardware and licensing) way to expand your capacity than traditional vertically scaling options in SQL-based worlds. Second is the inherent flexibility of how data is represented and modeled allows for the possibility of combining disparate data sources in interesting ways and often in quicker implementations. And this is where the sell is.

When I decided to make a change from my consulting practice in 2011 I made the choice to seek out a position in a traditional corporation. The purpose was clear. While I had worked with large clients in my past I had never worked in a large organization, I always assumed it wasn’t for me but I knew I had a large gap in my understandings of the working world and I wanted to shore that up. Second, I was considering building enterprise software in the future and wanted to understand my future customer. That was a unique and interesting experience I’ll comment on another day but for this topic I’ll say that I saw huge opportunities for data mining that were not being taken advantage of.

Banks by nature have so much data about their customers that could be leveraged including demographics, spending patterns, location-based data, and life events but the bank I worked for wasn’t close to leveraging all this data. Why is that? First, they were having a difficult time with their warehousing strategy and were backlogged on all those initiatives. And whenever a new one came in it had to be reconsidered against the Master Data Management strategy and then normalized for warehouse operations. If that was ever completed there was then writing the queries and trying to have the business understand what the data meant in the normalized fashion so they could explore it. By that time the budget was slashed and moved to some IT project that was required under banking regulations and the warehouse was never in a state to provide insights.

Big Data feels like a solve in these instances. Leadership can cite how the warehouse team doesn’t produce and look forward to the words “faster” being put into practice but that misses the larger point that the organization isn’t able to deliver their projects today with technologies they seem to understand. That leads to this quote from the WSJ piece, “The dirty secret is that a significant majority of big-data projects aren’t producing any valuable, actionable results”.  And to this I’d say why end there? Aren’t there a plethora of statistics showing how IT projects in the enterprise fail?

Even if a company implements a big data solution it still needs to understand that they will likely have a shortage of the right talent. Newer tech isn’t understood as well by those immersed in older tech and if your workforce isn’t readily adaptive in capability and buy-in you’ll have issues. Also, the problem is far greater than technology because even if you have the data in place you still need the right people with the understanding of the business and marketplace to deliver the insights.

Another adage is that there is no silver bullet or panacea for your business. Whether its agile, outsourcing, offshoring, NoSQL, mobile, or any other buzzword the keyword is leadership. Leadership to have a vision which leads to a plan for how to leverage the right tech at the right time to solve the right thing.

Even Best Buy likes Serial.

Given the mini-news flash of the day regarding Best Buy’s twit referencing the popular pod Serial its worth mentioning that line that we need to draw between what we think is funny and what is brand appropriate for your company. This tweet is very funny and sharp for those @Serial listeners but looks to have crossed that line from a Best Buy brand perspective.

Best-Buy-tweet

Letter to the Editor – NY Times

In my business ethics course for my MBA we had to find an issue worthy of sending a letter to the editor from an ethical perspective. I thought I’d share mine here now that I’ve nearly parked the car in that MBA garage.

To the Editor:

 

Funny, They Don’t Look Like My References(Business, 11/9/14)

The issue that a LinkedIn reference from a ‘coworker’ with whom you may not have actually worked, and that you are unaware of, could impact your hiring potential shows the risk we walk as we let Big Data drive decision systems. The LinkedIn features on reference searches for their paying customers look to jeopardize the integrity of mega social sites like LinkedIn and needs to be closely watched by both the judicial system and customers.

That LinkedIn did not have the foresight to see this as an ethical issue and risk to their integrity as well as a violation of their expected duty of care towards their users brings alarm to me. If the verdict in this legal case does not find protection for LinkedIn users through its interpretation of the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act then we know we need updated consumer protection to cover the gap in legal rights that the social internet age brings.

LinkedIn is such a part of the lexicon of professionals today that one insular event like this likely won’t cause much stir but I’d hope that the trending news around social would lean more towards stories that actually can affect our lives rather than what celebrity is on the cover of the weekly Paper magazine.

JAKE HACKL

Minneapolis, 11/14/14

When Should You Outsource? HBO Gives a Example.

Outsourcing is far from a new topic in business and there are many depths to which a company can leverage outsourcing to optimize its business. The Wall Street Journal had a recent article around HBO titled “HBO to Use MLB Advanced Media for Stand-Alone Streaming Product” that I found to be a great example of a company understanding their core competencies and deciding to outsource accordingly.

HBO is the leader of premium TV/cable networks. The invented the segment when they introduced original programming to cable and have recently made waves with their plan to create their own streaming service. They opted for this strategy because HBO operates as a premium service that is only available to cable and satellite users and they saw a risk to their model with the growing trend of people ditching these services for streaming only options like Netflix and Amazon Prime. From the article we learn that the orginal intent was to build out their technical capabilities to support this streaming model by ramping up their tech teams by an estimated 200 people. They’ve recently opted out of this strategy and decided instead to partner with MLB Advanced Media for this work.

There are details we don’t know but it sounds as if there was some disagreements about whether the streaming operations where important enough to be in-house. Granted we don’t understand the costs or details but I’d still contend this is an excellent example of a business understanding when a project/task falls outside their strengths and to outsource it. Technology is amazing, I’m in it and I love it, I’d want to build this platform and own it but that doesn’t mean a business should hold all things shiny and new.

At my current company we leverage outsourcing in areas that are far from our core competencies such as: data center support, video creation, and copy writing. There are some areas where I don’t think we should leverage outsourcing and that deals with defining plans and key internal processes. That is one area where I think a business must spend the time to understand how it currently operates and how it should operate to achieve business goals, at least at a high-level. Once that is done the outsourcing of nitty-gritty can be much more effective because you still own and understand the overall vision.

One example from my past of when to not outsource, at least on the basis core competencies and doing what you do well, is the advice an entrepreneurial friend gave me when I was running my software consulting business years ago. I was knee deep in a busy cycle and trying to juggle existing clients, projects, and trying to find time to bid on projects. Time was in short supply, I was stressed and he suggested I outsource everything to offshore teams.This technique had been applied by my friend as he started building his wealth years earlier and I respected his advice but knew it wasn’t for me.

Up to that point I had outsourced a few, very specific and extremely detailed bits of work to offshore teams but never had I gone as far as he was suggesting.  For me to outsource all of these tasks would leave me to focus on the management of all the projects with offshore teams which isn’t something that brings me joy (I could of course outsourced that as well). Additionally, the rest of my focus would be on landing new clients to be able to leverage this new ability to scale but selling is something I’m able to do but that doesn’t mean its a core competency of mine.

So in short I’d be trading what I did really well at that time in my career for areas that either don’t bring the satisfaction or weren’t areas of strength. In my case the outsourcing didn’t work and I’m glad I didn’t pursue, even at the potential cost of my current net worth.

How I Eat – Part 3 – Information Sources

This is the third installment on how I eat. If you missed the first or second post feel free to take a look.

How I Learn

There is so much information today and some say it doubles every two years so how can you keep up? My take is don’t focus on the quantity and figure out what it takes for you to locate quality that aligns with your purview. This is an approach I had to learn when I first entered the tech industry 15 years ago as a web developer. There was always a new framework, programming language, and approach being written about and if I spent time researching them all I’d never be able to actually utilize them in building products for my clients. What worked for me was taking a high-level approach and asking simple questions like: “what differentiates this language?” and “Is it trying to solve a problem that is unsolved today?”

This still wasn’t enough and I needed to find sources that I could trust who could summarize and present trends in the industry to me. This would free me up to work (aka bill hours) while also allowing me to stay current. It takes time to figure out the sources you trust and I spent years accumaling them via books, blogs, and magazines and today we also have podcasts, videos, and social to sort through.

Hopefully I can help build trust

I think I can help you build that trust by sharing my sources and then you can take a test drive with each of them and decide if they belong in your reference section or not. I did not have this starting out and there were plenty of blogs, books, and podcasts that had poor content, misplaced motives, and bad production. I’ll only share those that I recommend and save the hate for the rest of the internet.

My Favorite – Gold Seal

If I could only choose one trusted source then I’d go with Angelo Coppola from the Latest In Paleo podcast and Humans Are Not Broken. Angelo has been putting out great podcasts for years now and was the source my wife and both like to listen too when we began our journey to better health. At that time we were painting our living room and we played the back catalog which have aged well; he’s now over 120 episodes. What I like best about Latest In Paleo is that Angelo acts as a news aggregator around health so you always feel current on what is being researched, talked about, and presented in the news. And while he has his own views on these topics, like we all do, he presents a balanced perspective and often leaves me thinking deeper about an issue or ideology. Also, he’s genuine and not a constant marketer / pitchman and produces one of the best podcast out there. I couldn’t recommend him more. As a fun note, I was able to work with him at a tech conference breakout team project when he was still working in the tech space and he was just a cool dude; that’s actually how I learned about his podcast.

I want more Podcasts

When I was starting down my journey I also like the Balanced Bites Podcast. The production quality wasn’t great but these two ladies present good material. For newbies their paleo pitfalls podcasts are very good. Here’s Part one.

The Bulletproof podcast is one I really enjoyed when starting. Dave Asprey is a smart guy who brings many good topics to the stage although I admit I listen less these days as the marketing and sell approach has been too amped for my liking for a while. He’s coming out with a book about his branded diet soon that I will give a read.

Others:

  • Tim Ferriss – the guy keeps busy, shares good content, and is entertaining
  • Robb Wolf - he puts out SO MUCH content its impossible to keep up but the material is solid

I want to hear from a Doctor

I hear you, we get comfort when we listen to our doctor even though their nutritional training may not be much more than yours. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed.

  • Wheat Belly – Dr. William Davis – Is a great book and he has a blog as well.
  • Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers – Dr. David Perlmutter

Other Names

There’s loads more of course and I’m not intending on providing an exhaustive list but this is plenty to get you started if you choose too.

How I eat – Part 2

The next level – what I do.

Last post I started describing the approach I take with my diet. Today I’m going to get into the details. In general I keep it simple with “eat real food”. Images can be helpful for helping those starting out and I used to like this one when I started paleo. There’s also more expounding charts from folks like Dave Asprey and his Bulletproof Diet which I support.

Start your day with protein.

I eat 3 to 4 pastured eggs everyday cooked in grass-fed butter. Why? I believe starting my day with 30 grams of protein is key as well as avoiding carbs in the morning (thanks Tim Ferris). This alone is worth its weight it gold; if you aren’t going to go paleo, sugar-free, gluten-free, low carb, or whatever diet choice you still owe it to yourself to start the motor off on the right path and not by feeding it garbage and carbs in the morning. If we think of all the processed foods people associate with carb-based breakfast foods and then play a game of which ones we should keep its easy, none. Now forget ‘em! Yes, cereal is the devil’s food for your body in the morning (and all the time). With my almost minted MBA I’m happy to talk about the awesome business strategy that the cereal makers created. They not only created a new market that people strongly associate with breakfast but a market that owns an entire isle of supermarket real estate but c’mon that don’t make it good for you.

When you’ve done the protein you can play around with fat as well and nothing is better, or more yummy, than Bulletproof Coffee. Just be careful you don’t overdue it with both; that’s a lot of input.

Saturated fat can be good

If you’re my age you were raised after margarine was already omnipresent. I was raised on diet food, snack wells, and low fat everything. The science was wrong and the marketing by food manufacturers took it to another level and still do so today. I haven’t researched this but I wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans still carry a false view about the health benefits of margarine.

If they take something out of your food it’s processed. If they take something out and they replace it with something worse (chemicals, sugar, sugar substitutes) then its not better its worse. If you’re like me you were probably told how bad fat is and to replace it with man-made fats; the poor advice still continues, even on the Mayo Clinics website linking saturated fat with heart disease. I’m past that. Grass-fed butter, bacon grease from quality pigs, avocado, coconut butter, these are miracle foods and taste amazing. Live it up, be happy, feel full, and feel better.

Avoid sugar

Sugar is literally the devil. We used to eat this very little now we eat this much…really why? I’ll leave someone else to talk about the why, maybe sugar anonymous can chime in but know this, it’s also a main culprit for inflammation in your body and you don’t want inflammation in your body.

American Sugar Consumption

“Stephan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen, Whole Health Source”

Don’t drink your calories

No soda and for the love of god by this point I hope you’re done buying fruit juice. You want to juice at home, that’s cool. We do nice ones with beets, kale, a little bit of fruit.

Carbs and gluten

Gluten-free is the trend. I think it makes the choices simpler but I recognize the science is mixed on gluten sensitivity. And if you go gluten-free then you are allowing yourself to be cast with the lot that was on Atkins before this and the South Beach, and this chemical, that fad, etc. but be tough, you can take it. The idea is that you are probably eating way to much refined/processed grain/carbs and it has terrible affects on your health from blood sugar which leads to wheat belly, diabetes, unhappiness, inflammation.

Gluten-free is good way to avoid that.

Paleo

Paleo is a loaded word. On thing I have learned regarding health and wellness is how much comfort the masses have in labeling different behaviors and groups. I’m a crossfitter so that’s one area I get labeled even though how I work out matches what many of my friends do on their own; mine happens to be in a CrossFit gym. Like many crossfitters, I’ve experimented with the paleo diet. While I allow that my diet is essentially paleo what seems to stick in peoples minds is to label me as a meat eater. To me paleo is about eating real food. I don’t care if you eat beans, don’t eat beans, have under 50 grams of carbs for ketosis or drown in carbs. My wife is a pescecarian, not a crossfitter, and is paleo-ish as well yet all she hears about is how she doesn’t eat meat and eats a special way. It shouldn’t be that way, eating real food should be the new norm and my nutritional mantra is eat real food.

Know where your food comes from and why it matters

My wife was ahead of me on health and wellness (and so much more), she’s helped me grow in this space and so thankful for her wisdom. Sure we spend more on diet than those buying all their food from Walmart but it’s an investment. I’m blessed to be able to afford the extra cost for organic produce, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, and food free from additives and hormones. However, while I acknowledge the short-term cost are higher I’d still contend that in the long-term it provides a cost-savings through less need of treating disease and also increases longevity; at least that’s what I’m counting on.

Watch documentaries, understand their biases, their potential for truths. See where this brings you. Personally it brought me to my belief that a happier & healthy animal provide better nourishment than a factory one; I now avoid beef from feedlots.

Be active

Walk 30 minutes a day, work on mobility, work up to intensity (HIITS) 1-2 times a week and some strength work as well. Me, I work out all the time but not for health but because I enjoy it. It’s my yoga.

Sleep

7-8 hours a good milestones – I use a fitbit to track my sleep. Metrics baby! If you aren’t getting good sleep then find out why. Do the sleep essentials that are out there. Dark, cool room, avoid media and blue light, avoid late night meals, play with taking honey, ZMAs, etc.

Learning

I’m a lifelong student trying to learn as much as I enjoy the ride we’re on. I try to take in as much information as I can and attachment myself to nothing; it’s all open for change.

Logging

I don’t believe we need to log what we eat. If you eat real food, start your day with protein you should be good. That being said I have found logging to be beneficial when changing something about your diet and find it essential when you are trying to understand your diet. There’s many kinds out there but I’ve liked LoseIt.

Well that’s enough for this post. I do have one more planned that shares where I go for information.

How I eat – Part 1

Last month I returned from my annual “guys adventure” trip. For 2014 we kept it fairly simple went to Colorado and summited two 14er’s and missed the 3rd 14er, Long’s Peak, because it was still snow packed and more adventure then we were looking for. The participants are a thrown together group linked by two guys who meet via finance jobs a decade ago. Now we have 7 years of trips and solid friendships between the Minneapolis and Chicago bases. It’s a great chance to get away, let the cell phones not work, and go back to the basics well busting each other pretty good.

One of the guys asked me about how he could clean up his diet and I was all set to fire off a fast response with my answer but stopped. What seems so simple turned out to be rather complicated. It can easily snowball into a ‘why do you believe this and that’.  For friendly advice I didn’t want to start citing my references and summarizing the past few years of readings, podcasts, and personal experimentation that have combined to formed my personal approach; so I basically stalled out for a month. I’ve never put this into words and expect that the first pass will be rather rough but I plan to return and refine and have this be something I can share to others in the future as they explore their own diet paradigm.

So as a disclaimer – this is my approach. It’s not proven, backed, funded, or gone through peer review. It’s meant to be an exercise in sharing for others to consider when finding their own approach.

I’m going to start big picture with my personal tenets.

Eat real food.

What’s real food? Food that comes from things that were growing, walking, or swimming and minimally processed like veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, & grass-fed meat.

This means watchout for processed foods

What’s processed? Processed foods to me are foods that have been combined, assembled, constructed, or formed at a plant. How do you know? Does it come in a box or a package? Check out the ingredients and let that be your guide. A box of branded crackers will have far different quantity and types of ingredients from a bag of apples. For me this means avoiding tortilla chips (overly processed) and canned salsa (added sugar). The risk with packaged manufactured foods is that they have so many ingredients that are great for making food ‘shelf ready’ and leveraging our countries awesome food scientists but that is a step further from being considered real food. Take a walk at the store and check out the ingredients list on many of packaged foods and just look for the number of foods that have added in wheat, sugar, or corn. Now ask yourself if they need it and consider why it is in there. If you think its to make better quality food or healthier food then know that you and I disagree.

Experiment

Do I think fasting is for me? Hey, I’m a midwesterner, we don’t starve here! I’ll admit it doesn’t appeal to me on the outset but I’d try it. Being caught in the reasons or expected efficacy of something based on our personal knowledge can limit us from exploring the options out there. Does sugar sap your brain power? Stop consuming it for 30 days and see how you feel. Do you think avoiding processed grains is only for gluten-free wackos? Great, good for you; but what do you have to lose for trying it for 2 weeks? The point is that we don’t know as much about health and the effects of our food as much as we think we do and you are fully empowered to experiment and find the best approach for you. Just don’t start experiments where you digest batteries.

Whenever you experiment do follow Robb Wolf’s advice and ask yourself how you look, feel, and perform.

Be accountable for your health

Don’t look to others for answers on your health. I’m big on self-improvement in every aspect of my life. I don’t need to be the best at anything but I want to be getting better at everything I care about; it’s a core belief in how I live my life. How can we be accountable? For one, be informed, become interested. These topics don’t need to be an area of passion (but then again why not) but at least you can form the basis of understanding so you have an opinion.

Too many want to lean on their doctors for nutritional advice but that’s just not the place to look. Next people may look to the news media for information but there you’ll find news that is more focused on the headline than the research or may have a bad study to share. To solve this I personally find my own sources of wisdom and then always run these sources through my own judging filter. We are responsible for our own health.

My next post will share how I approach diet.