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Archive for April, 2014

Why Isn’t Everybody Doing It?

Monday, April 28th, 2014

SheepThat is a very dangerous question for a leader to ask when evaluating options. Yet it is one I hear far too often in the healthcare realm. It encapsulates a rejection of innovation, evolution and learning all in one terse, often rhetorical, question.

A common context for this question, often prefixed by, “If this is so great…,” is when discussing semantics and semantic technology. Although these concepts are not new to some industries, such as media, they are foreign in many healthcare organizations. Yet we know that healthcare payers and providers alike struggle with massive data integration and data analytics challenges just like media conglomerates.

The needs to: combine siloed information; drive an analytics mindset throughout an organization; and support the flexibility of a constantly changing IT environment are common in large healthcare organizations. Repeated attempts by organizations to meet these needs betray a lack of consensus around how to best achieve a valuable result.

Further, the implication that how most organizations solve a problem is optimal ignores the fact that best practices must change over time. The best way to solve a problem last year may not be the same this year. The healthcare industry is changing, the physical world of servers, networks, disk drives, memory is changing, and the expectations of members are changing. What was infeasible years ago becomes commonplace. Relational databases were all but unworkable in the 1970s due to a lack of experienced DBAs, slow disk drives, slow processors and limited memory.

In the same way, semantic formalization and graph databases were too new and limited to deal with large data sets until people gained expertise with ontologies while system hardware benefitted from another generation of Moore’s law. In the face of ongoing innovation, the question leaders should ask when approaching a challenge is, “What advancements have been made since the last time we looked at this problem?

Innovation Technology Strategy Leadership SignpostLeadership requires leading, not following. Leaders mentor their organizations through change in order to reach new levels of success. Leadership is based on learning, open-mindedness, creativity and risk-taking. The question, “Why isn’t everybody doing it?” is the antithesis of leadership and has no place there. In fact, if everybody is doing something, a leader would be better off asking, “How do we get ahead of what everybody is doing?”

Leaders must be on the forefront of pushing for better, faster, cheaper. Questioning the status quo, looking for new opportunities, seeking to leapfrog the competition, those are key foci for leadership.

As a leader, the next time you find yourself limiting your willingness to explore an option because everybody isn’t doing it, keep in mind that calculators, computers, automobiles, elevators, white boards, LED light bulbs, Google maps, telephones, the Internet, 3-D printing, open heart surgery, and many more concepts that are accepted or gaining traction, had a day when only one person or organization was “doing it.” Challenge yourself and your organization to find new options, new best practices and new paradigms for advancing your strategy and goals.

How Does Semantic Technology Enable Agile Data Analytics?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

I’m glad you asked. SDATAVERSITYcott Van Buren and I will be presenting a Dataversity webinar entitled, Using Semantic Technology to Drive Agile Analytics, on exactly that topic. Scheduled for May 14, 2014 (and available for replay afterwards), this webinar will highlight key semantic technology capabilities and how those provide an environment for data agility.

We will focus most of the webinar on a case study that demonstrates the agility of semantic technology being used to conduct data analysis within a healthcare payer organization. Healthcare expertise is not required in order to understand the case study.

swAs we look into several iterations of data federation and analysis, we will see the effectiveness of bringing the right subset of data together at the right time for a particular data-centric use. This concept translates well to businesses that have multiple sets of data or applications, including data from third parties, and seek to combine relevant subsets of that information for reporting or analytics. Further, we will see how this augments data warehousing projects, where the lightweight and agile data federation approach informs the warehouse design.

Please plan to  join us virtually on May 14 as we describe semantic technology, lightweight data federation and agile data analytics. There will also be time for you to pose questions and delve into areas of interest that we do not cover in our presentation.

The webinar registration page is: http://content.dataversity.net/051414BlueslateWebinar_DVRegistrationPage.html

We look forward to having the opportunity to share our data agility thoughts and experiences with you.

San Jose and the SemTechBiz 2014 Conference, Here I Come!

Friday, April 18th, 2014

semtechbiz2014.imspeaking.203x72I am thrilled to have been invited back to participate at the Semantic Technology and Business (SemTechBiz) conference. This is the premier US conference for learning about, exploring and getting your hands on semantic technology. I’ll be part of a Blue Slate team (including Scott Van Buren and Michael Delaney) who will be conducting a half-day hands-on workshop, Integrating Data Using Semantic Technology, on August 19, 2014. Our mission is to have participants use semantic technology to integrate, federate and perform analysis across several data sources.

We have some work to do to iron out our overall use case, pulling from work we have done with several clients. At a minimum we’ll be working with database schemas, ontologies, reasoners and data analytics tools. It will be a fun and educational experience for attendees.

I’ll post more specifics once the SemTechBiz agenda is published and we have finalized the workshop structure. I hope to see you this August 19-21 in San Jose for our workshop and the amazing learning opportunities throughout the conference.

For more information on the conference, visit its website: http://semtechbizsj2014.semanticweb.com/index.cfm

Initial Time to Build? Vision to Release in Days? Those Aren’t Relevant Measures for Business Agility!

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

I routinely receive emails, tweets and snail mail from IT vendors that focus on how their solution accelerates the creation of business applications. They will quote executives and technology leaders, citing case studies that compare the time to build an application on their platform versus others. They will make the claim that this speed to release proves that their platform, tool or solution is “better” than the competition. Further, they claim that it will provide similar value for my business’ application needs. The focus of these advertisements is consistently, “how long did it take to initially create some application.”

This speed-to-create metric is pointless for a couple of reasons. First, an experienced developer will be fast when throwing together a solution using his or her preferred tools. Second, an application spends years in maintenance versus the time spent to build its first version.

Build it fast!

Years ago I built applications for GE in C. I was fast. Once I had a good set of libraries, I could build applications for turbine parts catalogs in days. This was before windowing operating systems. There were frameworks from companies like Borland that made it trivial to create an interactive interface. I moved on to Visual Basic and SQLWindows development and was equally fast at creating client-server applications for GE’s field engineering team. I progressed to C++ and created CGI-based web applications. Again, building and deploying applications in days. Java followed, and I created and deployed applications using the leading edge Netscape browser and Java Applets in days and eventually hours for trivial interfaces.

Since 2000 I’ve used BPM and BRM platforms such as PegaRULES, Corticon, Appian and ILOG. I’ve developed applications using frameworks like Struts, JSF, Spring, Hibernate and the list goes on. Through all of this, I’ve lived the euphoria of the initial release and the pain of refactoring for release 2. In my experience not one of these platforms has simplified the refactoring of a weak design without a significant investment of time.

Speed to initial release is not a meaningful measure of a platform’s ability to support business agility. There is little pain in version 1 regardless of the design thought that goes into it. Agility is about versions 2 and beyond. Specifically, we need to understand what planning and practices during prior versions is necessary to promote agility in future versions.


Heartbleed – A High-level Look

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

HeartbleedThere has been a lot of information flying about on the Internet concerning the Heartbleed vulnerability in the OpenSSL library. Among system administrators and software developers there is a good understanding of exactly what happened, the potential data losses and proper mitigation processes. However, I’ve seen some inaccurate descriptions and discussion in less technical settings.

I thought I would attempt to explain the Heartbleed issue at a high level without focusing on the implementation details. My goal is to help IT and business leaders understand a little bit about how the vulnerability is exploited, why it puts sensitive information at risk and how this relates to their own software development shops.

Heartbleed is a good case study for developers who don’t always worry about data security, feeling that attacks are hard and vulnerabilities are rare. This should serve as a wake-up-call that programs need to be tested in two ways – for use cases and misuse cases. We often focus on use cases, “does the program do what we want it to do?” Less frequently do we test for misuse cases, “does the program do things we don’t want it to do?” We need to do more of the latter.

BusinessSecurityBrief: Heartbleed - TitleSlideI’ve created a 10 minute video to walk through Heartbleed. It includes the parable of a “trusting change machine.” The parable is meant to explain the Heartbleed mechanics without requiring that the viewer be an expert in programming or data encryption.

If you have thoughts about ways to clarify concepts like Heartbleed to a wider audience, please feel free to comment. Data security requires cooperation throughout an organization. Effective and accurate communication is vital to achieving that cooperation.

Here are the links mentioned in the video:

Data Unleashed™ – Addressing the Need for Data-centric Agility

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Data Unleashed™. The name expresses a vision of data freed from its shackles so that it can be quickly and iteratively accessed, related, studied and expanded. In order to achieve that vision, the process of combining, or federating, the data must be lightweight. That is, the approach must facilitate rapid data set expansion and on-the-fly relationship changes so that we may quickly derive insights. Conversely, the process must not include a significant investment in data structure design since agility requires that we avoid a rigid structure.

Over the past year Blue Slate Solutions has been advancing its processes and technology to support this vision, which comprises the integration between components in our Cognitive Corporation® framework. More recently we have invested in an innovation development project to take our data integration experiences and semantic technology expertise and create a service offering backed by a lightweight data federation platform. Our platform, Data Unleashed™, enables us to partner with customers who are seeking an agile, lightweight enhancement to traditional data warehousing.

I want to emphasize that we believe that the Data Unleashed™ approach to data federation works in tandem with traditional Data Warehouses (DW) and other well-defined data federation options. It offers agility around data federation, benefiting focused data needs for which warehouses are overkill while supporting a process for iteratively deriving value using a lightweight data warehouse™ approach that informs a broader warehousing solution.

At a couple of points below I emphasize differences between Data Unleashed™ and a traditional DW. This is not meant to disparage the value of a DW but to explain why we feel that Data Unleashed™ adds a set of data federation capabilities to those of the DW.

As an aside, Blue Slate is producing a set of videos specifically about semantic technology, which is a core component of Data Unleashed™. The video series, “Semantic Technology, An Enterprise Introduction,” will be organized in two tracks, business-centric and technology-centric. Our purpose in creating these is to promote a holistic understanding of the value that semantics brings to an organization. The initial video provides an overview of the series.

What is Data Unleashed™ All About?

Data Unleashed™ is based on four key premises:

  1. the variety of data and data sources that are valuable to a business continue to grow;
  2. only a subset of the available data is valuable for a specific reporting or analytic need;
  3. integration and federation of data must be based on meaning in order to support new insights and understanding; and
  4. lightweight data federation, which supports rapid feedback regarding data value, quality and relationships speeds the process of developing a valuable data set.

I’ll briefly describe our thinking around each of these points. Future posts will go into more depth about Data Unleashed™ as well. In addition, several Blue Slate leaders will be posting their thoughts about this offering and platform.