Big Data’s Big Channel Opportunity

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You know something’s big when Stephen Colbert is lampooning it on his faux news analysis show. And “big data” recently rose to that level, with Colbert making it part of his “The Word” segment.

Truth is Colbert never actually said the words “big data,” but he talked about the elements of big data as they related to the New York Times’ report of how Target discovered a teenage girl was pregnant before her father.

First, a little about what precipitated Colbert’s rant: The Times reported a Minneapolis father was incredulous that his daughter would receive special offers for expecting mothers from Target. He thought there was no way this was appropriate for his chaste daughter. As it turns out, his daughter was with child, and Target discovered this fact by correlating her shopping habits.

Target found that women who fall into certain patterns are often in the early stages of pregnancy – and are prime for incentive marketing. It’s big data in action.

Solution providers may want to give a second listen to something else Colbert said: Big data is often derived from point of sales, inventory reports, shopper loyalty programs and similar systems and activities. What Colbert noted is how retailers are embedding sensors in store shelves to measure how long shoppers linger in front of certain products. As Colbert said, “So guys, for the first time, a rack may be checking you out.”

Solution providers often think of the obvious aspects of IT system sales and deployments – servers, PCs, switches and storage. They’ll complement these products with value-enhancing systems such as backup and recovery, security and managed services. What’s often overlooked by the channel is advanced and embedded technologies that have enhanced the value of business operations and revenue potential.

IBM talks about building “a smarter planet” and smarter cities. The sensors at nearly every toll booth in the country are feeding continuous streams of data to centralized collection points for correlation and analysis. Logistics and trucking companies are relying on sensors that read RFID tags to track cargo and parcel shipments. The barcode readers produced by Motorola and Intermec are feeding data back to automated servers that let Amazon consumers know when they’ll receive their Hello Kitty collectibles. And Honeywell sensors connected to 3G transmitters have been used by Concert, an energy management solution provider, to feed data to a IBM Websphere platform to enable homeowners to measure and manage their energy consumption.

These systems are already in wide use, whether we realize it. My local Stop and Shop supermarket recently installed handheld barcode scanners that enable shoppers to register their purchases at the shelf and speed checkout. As you walk through the aisles, the scanner will ring with a coupon offer that happens to correlate to your shopping habits and location in the store. How does it know where you are? Sensors in the shelves. A rack is checking you out.

At this week’s IBM PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans, Big Blue talked big about big data. It’s a leader in the data analytics market and sees huge opportunity for its products, particularly its Netezza appliances. IBM isn’t alone. Google has changed its privacy policy so it can leverage the search histories of its users in marketing. Microsoft is enhancing its Dynamics CRM platform to drive greater data intelligence. And Oracle and SAP, always the players in anything dealing with databases, see tremendous upside in data analysis.

What all these vendors and scores more like them know is that their products and technology capabilities are meaningless unless they can reach the total addressable market. To do that, they need the channel to engage in big data, develop and support data analytics solutions, and bring the power of Big Data to their customers. It’s a huge opportunity, as big as the piles of data that these systems are designed to crunch.

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