IBM: 8 Questions With the Company's New Big Data Honcho

Bob Picciano, head of IBM's new Big Data and Analytics business unit, gives eWEEK a deep dive into where IBM is going with its big data strategy.

IBM recently named Bob Picciano as senior vice president of its newly formed Big Data and Analytics Group. He is charged with leading a new business unit focused on continuing to drive leading-edge technologies into the marketplace to transform industries and professions. Picciano sat down with eWEEK senior editor Darryl K. Taft for a look into IBM's new data-driven unit.

Tell us a bit about this new business unit you head up, the IBM Big Data and Analytics Group?

First off, Ginni [Rometty, IBM's CEO] sees a set of transforming forces and she is positioning the IBM company to take advantage of the momentum in the marketplace. At the beginning of the year, she said there are three things that are happening and we’ve been investing in those things for some time. It’s all about data--data-driven transformation, it’s about cloud and it’s about systems of engagement.

In many ways cloud is the how, engagement is the why and data is the what. In fact, one of the things I’ve noticed in the last nine months or so–and I’ve been doing data since 1987–is now everything is all about top line growth. Maybe three or four years ago working with data was more about how I manage things more efficiently. Now it’s all about top line growth. Clients are all about building growth agendas, whether it’s on understanding the information that they currently have or combining it with outside information to be able to attract or retain clients, or whether it’s creating a new business model about the data they manage, or using it to improve the economics of IT as opposed to trying to squeeze cost out of the data layers themselves.

And the fast-moving, high-variety nature of data and information means you have to have more robust, more integrated analytics to make sense of all the information--structured, unstructured, polystructured.

So Ginni organized the company, specifically the Software Group, around those transformative tenets. And basically set the rest of the company as ecosystems around those bases. I have the responsibility for the Information and Analytics Group, which includes Watson Foundations, which is the platform we use to curate information for big data problem solving, but also to generate it and feed it to our cognitive capability in Watson. Mike Rhodin has the Watson Group and that’s about that next era of computing. And Robert LeBlanc has the cloud and software solutions organization.

So it’s a bit of a remix of how we were positioned before. And included in my group are all of the business analytics capabilities, all portfolios around risk management and performance management, business intelligence, predictive analytics, prescriptive analytics, next-generation visualizations, the enterprise content team–which is all the unstructured information, including advanced case management capabilities and content navigation. I also have the portfolio of the information management group, which I was managing up until January of this year.

What are your plans for your new role? What do you plan to focus on?

The first thing is to make sure the marketplace understands our capabilities in being able to curate information for advanced analytics and problem solving. Last year we steadily introduced into the market several new capabilities to allow people to have more confidence in using big data technology to get their arms around the information they have inside of their business and then apply analytics to all that information. We came out with capabilities like the privacy suite for Hadoop, which allows people to apply data lineage and providence and also advanced security to Hadoop data. We made several innovations in our BigInsights and our InfoSphere Streams and our data exploration platforms. We introduced new, more agile capabilities to manage information in data marts and data warehouses, which is an important part of everyone’s analytical system of record.

But I see more and more that there are really three things working together to help people curate their information: it’s an analytical system of record, it’s a Hadoop environment such as our BigInsights portfolio, and it’s being able to manage the information in motion to seize a critical business moment. So we’ve now put this together into the Watson Foundations package and have announced that to the market and to our partners for them to be able to curate information and apply analytics–sometimes directly pushed down into the data, other times as part of a data supply chain–and then help our clients build that on-ramp to using cognitive computing.