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October 15, 2015
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The Data Scientist and “Unknown Unknowns” in Big Data Discovery

Our guest blogger today is Rob Rosen, Senior Director Partner Solutions at Platfora, describes how to help customers achieve strategic advantage through data discovery.

While many people have heard the notion of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns,” it may surprise you to discover that the concept was first popularized by a NASA scientist. In a presentation given at TEDx GeorgeMasonU, Dr. Kirk Borne described how he used the concept of “known unknowns” (things that we knew might exist, but hadn’t seen evidence of) and “unknown unknowns” (things that we could discover and knew nothing about, but would truly surprise us), and how they relate to the concept of Big Data.

Part of my responsibility at Platfora is to discuss Hadoop and its adoption in the enterprise with executives from a wide variety of organizations from across the globe. I usually initiate the discussion by enquiring where an organization currently stands on its “big data journey.” The statistically likely response is, “we are incubating Hadoop” – code for “we’ve spun up a cluster and are looking for use cases.”

Given the extremely complex and increasingly fractured nature of the Hadoop technology stack (and to a larger extent, the Apache Hadoop community), this is hardly a surprising response. But it’s also disappointing because, without a focus on solving a discrete set of problems, momentum around Hadoop within a given organization is likely to peter out, contributing to what Gartner calls the “trough of disillusionment.

Most big data professionals agree that the best way to start out a big data journey and become data-driven is to “find a need and fill it” by addressing issues inhibiting an enterprise’s ability to grow revenue or contain cost. Popular Hadoop-centric use cases in this regard include enterprise data warehouse offload and fraud analytics, both of which are straightforward cost-control initiatives rather than revenue-enhancement exercises. While a focus on cost control can help get Hadoop off the ground, it’s unlikely to provide the kind of transformational enlightenment that enables the enterprise to leverage data to deliver true strategic advantage – the real promise of Hadoop.

This is where the headlining quote comes in handy. Hadoop-based data discovery solutions that enable enterprises to uncover insights from “unknown unknown” and “known unknown” categories, drive a strategic advantage because they show how traditional beliefs may no longer apply, if they ever did. New approaches are needed and insight derived from solutions like Platfora informs them how to get there.

Hortonworks and Platfora Use Cases

For example, one of Platfora’s transportation customers is leveraging Platfora and Hortonworks together to understand how package delivery patterns may suggest illegal usage of its transportation network to deliver contraband. Another joint customer in the financial services space is leveraging our joint solution to obtain the most accurate determination of asset liquidity, a key requirement in the face of increasingly stringent regulatory requirements. Several retailers are using Platfora on Hortonworks to determine which platforms (mobile or desktop) are used to purchase which products – a discovery that will lead to optimized profitability and revenue as the retailers shift from blind advertising to targeted messaging on a per-platform and per-segment basis.

Each of the foregoing use cases is an example of using Hadoop-based data discovery solutions to explore “unknown unknowns” and “known unknowns.”  Undertaking these projects unveils patterns that drive greater insight into how the organization engages with consumers of its products and services, which in turn exposes clear paths to enhanced profitability, revenue and operational efficiency. This is how a focus on data discovery leads to strategic advantage.

These organizations – all household names – engaged Platfora and Hortonworks because of their ability to jointly deliver strategic insights rather than simply reduce cost. Engage your Platfora and Hortonworks representatives to discuss how we can provide similar insights to your organization and avoid the “trough of disillusionment” in the process.

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