Caching In: How Some Organizations Are Using Big Data to Change the Way They Do Business

REDMOND, Wash. Feb. 12, 2012 Big data is changing the way organizations do business, make discoveries, and interact with each other. In fact, pundits are predicting that 2013 will be the year organizations across a range of industries begin implementing big data strategies, or face obsolescence. As David Selinger wrote in a recent article on Forbes online: “If executives don’t find a way to trap, tame, and train their data monsters, they’ll be extinct in two years—fossils who’ve missed the new world order.”

Microsoft believes that big data has the power to drive practical and theoretical insights that have eluded people to date. In the past, high costs and technology limitations have constrained access to data storage infrastructure and the tools needed to manage and analyze large quantities of data. This is finally starting to change.

And as many grapple with the “what” and “why” of big data, there are already customers leading the way and winning with better, faster insight. No organization knows this better than The Weather Company, parent company of The Weather Channel. Weather is at the core of many decisions that people make on a daily basis, and The Weather Company is at the forefront as they manage, consume and generate big data. The 1,200-person organization, based in Atlanta, Georgia, recognizes the opportunity that big data represents and is working to help consumers and businesses make intelligent decisions.

“Weather is probably the biggest big data platform. It plays a role in how you work, how you live, how you play and how you shop,” says Bryson Koehler, chief information officer at The Weather Company. “It impacts a significant portion of the world’s activity, and big data is about understanding how consumer behavior intersects with and is influenced by weather. With big data, we are helping our customers understand the data and take action in real-time.”

The Weather Company isn’t alone in this effort. A growing number of organizations are now thriving in the new world of big data. By using Microsoft solutions—including technologies that encompass machine learning and distributed computing—they have been able to ease the synthesis of big data to uncover powerful insights, effectively transforming massive data stores into a major competitive advantage. Some of these organizations include:

  • Bank New Zealand. BNZ implemented a self-service data analysis tool that can process data queries 60 times faster than its previous solution, making it possible for analysts to respond more quickly to market conditions and get higher quality insights.
  • CROSSMARK. A leading provider of sales and marketing services, CROSSMARK recently launched a new self-service data portal powered by Microsoft SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW) and Microsoft SQL Server 2012 business intelligence tools. The company uses the portal to deliver actionable, real-time business insights to its manufacturer and retailer clients in the consumer goods industry. In 2012 alone, CROSSMARK supported 26 million in-store activities for its clients, generating enormous amounts of point-of-sale (POS) data. Now, through its Microsoft solution, the company can provide highly scalable, on-demand access to consolidated reporting to help clients maximize revenue.
  • Department of Veterans Affairs. By using Microsoft technologies, the VA—which is the single largest medical system in the United States—has consolidated its entire analytics infrastructure and established a state-of-the-art data warehousing and big data computing environment to synthesize its immense health information database and support initiatives to improve patient care and organizational performance.
  • Great Western Bank. With a new data warehousing and BI solution, the bank can make it fast and easy for nontechnical employees to get exactly the information they are looking for, such as lists of categories of account holders for marketing campaigns. Users can more easily ensure a better fit between customers and bank services.
  • National Health Index. NHI provides internet access to the most comprehensive reservoir of healthcare data at the zip code level. The organization’s newly announced solution with Microsoft Corp., called the National Clinical Trial Network (NCTN), delivers a platform providing a comprehensive database of clinical trial options to providers. NCTN will also be a data warehouse transforming isolated data repositories into an integrated, searchable, national archive, permitting the rapid identification of representative samples of risk populations who might benefit from a proposed therapy.
  • Super 8 Hotels (China) Co., Ltd. In just one system, Super 8 Worldwide gets data analysis, data integration, and data reporting, so management can more easily analyze the business from multiple dimensions. It intends to use the technology to intelligently expand from 450 hotels to 1,000 hotels in three years.
  • Stein Mart. By implementing a Microsoft data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) solution, the company can manage information more efficiently and cut reporting time from hours to minutes.
  • University of Washington. Renowned as one of the world’s premier research universities and widely regarded as a center of technology innovation, the various departments that make up the University of Washington need to manage and process enormous amounts of data each day. To fulfill its mission in fostering the development of big ideas and transformational solutions, University Advancement has moved one of its reporting solutions to the Windows Azure cloud platform. The greatest value it has gained is enabling non-technical teams to quickly uncover insights from hundreds of millions of columns of data, providing increased scalability and easier management to better tailor outreach efforts to its alumni, donors and friends.

“Our big data customers stand at the forefront of a technology super-trend, one that can unleash human creativity on a scale never seen before,” says Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of the Enterprise and Partner Group at Microsoft. “Big data’s shift from obstacle to asset can only happen when one can easily unearth insight, and that requires broad availability of great analytics tools. Microsoft intends to facilitate an era of unmatched innovation and creative disruption.”

Still, the promise of big data remains largely unfulfilled. Technology companies need to do more to empower more people, which will push big data forward into the mainstream. Microsoft’s goal is to bring big data to the masses, believing that when you empower more people to use technology, you pave the way for new opportunities and understanding on a global scale. This fundamental belief that technology can change the world and improve people’s lives is what drives Microsoft’s long-term investments.