Hitachi’s Bill Schmarzo: ‘IoT avalanche will open up security vulnerabilities’

9 Nov 2018

Bill Schmarzo. Image: Hitachi Vantara

Known as the ‘Dean of Big Data’, Hitachi Vantara CTO Bill Schmarzo reveals his thoughts on AI, blockchain and the internet of things.

Bill Schmarzo is CTO in charge of internet of things (IoT) and analytics at Hitachi Vantara. Prior to Hitachi, he was CTO at Dell EMC and vice-president of analytics at Yahoo.

He is the author of Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business and Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science. Speaking frequently on the business value of big data and data science, he is considered the ‘Dean of Big Data’.

‘Digital transformation is not a technology discussion, it’s an economics conversation’

Schmarzo is an avid blogger and frequent speaker on the application of big data and advanced analytics to drive an organisation’s key business initiatives. He teaches at the University of San Francisco School of Management, where he is its first Executive Fellow.

In August, Schmarzo was appointed honorary professor at the JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway.

He was in Dublin this week for the National Analytics Conference 2018 hosted by the Analytics Institute of Ireland at the Mansion House.

What are your thoughts on the impact that AI will make on the tech world, from how businesses will operate to how it will touch on our private lives?

First, let’s start with a simplified definition of AI: AI is about codifying customer, product, and operational patterns and relationships (insights) in order to learn, act and/or automate.

The key components of that definition are:

  1. Codifying patterns and relationships, which we will do through data science in order to turn those patterns and relationships into repeatable, scalable math.
  2. To learn, act and/or automate, which means that we must know beforehand what we are trying to achieve and how we are going to put those customers, products and operational insights into action.

AI will manifest itself in all organisations that seek to optimise key business and operational processes, mitigate compliance and security risks, uncover new monetisation opportunities, and create a differentiated customer experience.

How big an impact has Hitachi made on the world of data?

Hitachi is one of the world’s biggest industrial companies, with more than a hundred years of operational technology (OT) knowledge. We also have more than 60 years of IT experience in storing, managing, protecting, backing up, securing and enriching data. We are now building upon that OT and IT base to integrate analytics into every aspect of an organisation’s operations.

More than 80pc of the Fortune 500 trust Hitachi Vantara for their data-driven solutions. We are the partner to help them store, protect, enrich, activate and monetise their data by accelerating insights and delivering tangible benefits. We think about this data journey along four stages we call SEAM:

  • Store: Store and protect data at the lowest cost and right service levels across traditional and private/public cloud solutions.
  • Enrich: Use metadata and analytics insights to generate new context that makes data more intelligent and in a usable format.
  • Activate: Integrate and orchestrate data assets, and use analytics to uncover the customer, product and operational insights.
  • Monetise: Deliver outcomes that capture the full economic value of all data inside the company and beyond.
Tell me about your own role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy at Hitachi.

Reporting to Hitachi Vantara’s chief product and strategy officer, Brad Surak, I am responsible for guiding the technology strategy for IoT and analytics within Hitachi Vantara. The expectation is that with my experience delivering advanced analytics solutions at places such as Business Objects, Yahoo and Dell EMC, I would bring a balanced business-technology approach regarding how we develop and deliver data and analytic capabilities that drive operational outcomes.

I also oversee Hitachi Vantara’s co-creation process where we collaborate with select customers to help them leverage IoT and analytics to power their digital business transformations.

Are you spearheading any major product/IT initiatives you can tell us about?

I oversee the data science community inside of Hitachi Vantara and am the co-chairman for all of Hitachi’s data science community efforts. We are treating the creation and nurturing of the data science community seriously. This community includes not only data scientists but also data engineers and even getting our business stakeholders to become ‘students of data science’.

How big is your team and what are its core functions?

My team is responsible for the following:

  • Creation of data science capabilities across Hitachi Vantara and collaborating across Hitachi to advance all of Hitachi’s data science skills and capabilities.
  • Customer envisioning, value engineering and co-creation, where we work with customers early in the sales cycle to help them envision where and how IoT and advanced analytics can power their business and operational models.
  • Embedding design-thinking concepts into our internal operations to improve organisational alignment and effectiveness.

I am also the chairman of Hitachi’s Grand Architecture Team, which is responsible for defining architecture standards and specifications to accelerate the sharing of IoT, data management and analytics intellectual property created throughout Hitachi.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation, and how are you addressing it?

Digital transformation is not a technology discussion, it’s an economics conversation. Digital transformation is about leveraging digital assets (data, analytics, smart apps) to create new sources of customer and market value. The digital transformation conversation with our customers starts with understanding their business initiatives and their business models. Successful digital transformation initiatives exploit superior customer, product and operational insights to disrupt business models, disintermediate customer relationships, and capitalise on new sources of customer and market value.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Wow, where do I start? The biggest tech trends orbit around machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence, to codify customer, product and operational or market patterns and relationships, in order to learn, act and/or automate. Organisations of all sizes are starting to understand that these advanced analytics conversations aren’t only about technology. They also need to involve the C-suite in order to identify, validate, value and prioritise the areas of the business that can benefit from these superior customer, product and operational insights. It’s very exciting!

One other technology that is starting to have an impact on industry business models is blockchain. The peer-to-peer, immutable nature of blockchain could have dramatic impacts on how organisations derive more value out of their customer and supply chain relationships.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Security is like insurance – no one gives it much thought until after you need it. The avalanche of IoT sensors and connected devices could open up all sorts of security vulnerabilities and, while we may not know where all those vulnerabilities are today, the one thing we do know is that the bad guys are very quick to find and exploit those vulnerabilities.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years