Understanding the Role of Big Data Analytics | #tcc13

Kicking off the Tableau Customer Conference in Washington, D.C., Wikibon’s Dave Vellante and Jeff Kelly welcomed Simon Zhang to SiliconANGLE’s live broadcast of theCUBE. Zhang is currently the Business Analytics Director for LinkedIn, a company regarded as one of the biggest practitioners of Big Data analytics in the industry.

Zhang’s personal history is interesting because he didn’t start his career among computers and information technology gurus. Instead, in his home country of China, Zhang had been neuroscientist and surgeon, having performed several hundred surgeries as an oncological neurosurgeon. During this time, Zhang was becoming more and more interested in the technology fields, specifically around IT and the Internet. This led Zhang to seek an MBA program in the United States.

With LinkedIn’s seeming mastery of Big Data, Vellante was curious how the company utilizes visualization to help unlock the power of data. Zhang responded by pointing out how data needs to be explained. LinkedIn’s mission, he continued, is to be able to convert as many as several terabytes of data into a very quickly understood, easy and scalable format.  Visualization is critical to achieving that mission.

Zhang continued, “At LinkedIn, we believe in making a report like an artist makes a painting.” This requires putting many individual parts together so anyone can look at it and get an idea quickly. Ultimately, this transfers into the making of more readily available business decisions.

In the not too distant past, Big Data meant slow processing. After making a data request, workgroups would often have to wait hours or even days to get their data report. In a world moving more rapidly, this was not an effective business model. This led Zhang in 2011 to look at how Tableau might help LinkedIn make smarter and faster data based decisions. Zhang commented Tableau has helped LinkedIn to become hundreds of times more efficient than they were before implementation.

Moving forward, Zhang states the biggest challenge in his career as a data scientist is how best to leverage the science and make it more accessible to a larger workgroup. Where data reports once would require hours, days or weeks to compile, Zhang’s teams now want the same answers in no more than 3 seconds.

Speaking to the democratization of data, Kelly wondered if we would see Big Data analytics applied more broadly to industries like retail or if we would simply see small shifts within industries aimed at achieving better productivity. Zhang stated that simply predicting the future is not good enough. “The core mission of analytics is how to make the future better. We are training people to be more productive.”

SiliconANGLE’s theCUBE is broadcasting live on September 9 & 10 from the Tableau Customer Conference in Washington, D.C.  Be sure to join us for the live broadcasts or visit our YouTube channel for any interviews you might have missed.

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