May 04 2015

EMC World 2015: The Big Data Enlightenment Is Upon Us

The potential for massive data sets and analytics to transform "business as usual" is too great for companies of any size to ignore.

Lots of people talk about how transformative Big Data can be if it’s unleashed within an organization.

But probably few people have done it with the same zest, panache and energy that Patricia Florissi, vice president and global chief technology officer of sales at EMC, did while presenting her session, “Big Data: Today & Tomorrow” at EMC World in Las Vegas.

“Technology is redefining the speed at which we are evolving,” said Florissi. “By the end of this decade there will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide!”

Her entire presentation went on like this. She would throw out eyebrow-raising statistics and then follow them up with bold declarations. It was like this session at EMC World was a pep rally or a political stump speech for Big Data and Florissi was running for Big Data president.

A Word Game with Big Data

Florissi’s method, though unconventional for an enterprise technology conference, had incredible impact. She wove a tale of the power and potential of Big Data by first highlighting how the digital universe has been in a boom cycle in recent years.

Discussions about Big Data often end here, with speakers stating that more devices generate more data and that organizations need the infrastructure and software to make sense of it all.

But Florissi took it one step further and walked the audience through an example of how Big Data has changed one field: human genomics. On the screen, she put up a word puzzle and the text on the screen consisting of four letters: A, C, G and T. She asked the audience to find the words in the puzzle. After a few attendees correctly guessed “cat,” “tag” and “act," she challenged the audience to do the same exercise and find words in her native Brazilian Portuguese. That task was not as easy.

Next, Florissi ramped up the difficulty by asking if the audience could find the sentence hidden in Portuguese in the word puzzle. Then, she pointed out how our brains make sense of the “Big Data”  in this word puzzle by packaging groups of letters into something we call words; groups of words into something we call sentences; and sentences into something we call text.

Genomics, she pointed out, is the science of taking these "word puzzles" in our DNA and making sense of them. When we suffer from an ailment or a disease, scanning our genomes for the words and letters that have somehow gotten mixed up is how medicine could more precisely diagnose and treat future maladies.

The Big Data Enlightenment Age

The point of Florissi’s genomics exercise was to demonstrate how the evolution of Big Data and analytics technology has allowed researchers to unravel the puzzle of the human genome step by step. As technology has become capable of analyzing and translating these data sets, it’s had a direct impact on the affordability of human genomics in general.

Florissi showed a chart that demonstrated how individual human genomics testing is approaching the $1,000 mark, which would put it on par with an MRI and make it more likely to be reimbursable by insurance. If every person had a map of their own genome, it would make data-driven initiatives in healthcare like precision medicine and personalized medicine even more powerful.

And the Big Data healthcare transformation is just one example that Florissi walked the audience through. She explained how Big Data was transforming space travel, retail and social media too.

“We are facing an era of scientific enlightenment,” Florissi confidently said.

And she’s not interested in hearing about how Big Data is relevant only for specific industries and companies of a certain size.

“Big Data is in every industry,” said Florissi. “When I meet a customer and they say, ‘I don’t have a Big Data problem,’ I say, ‘Look harder.’”

Ricky Ribeiro