Big Data's top influencers will gather at Wayne State symposium to demystify the growing new field

Big Data and analytics are at the top of the business hype curve right now, with breathless proponents using marketing buzzwords and making airy promises. Wayne State University’s third annual Big Data & Business Analytics Symposium, to be held March 23 and 24, is set to let some of that air out by focusing on practical and pragmatic business approaches to the hot new field.

Participants in the conference, which will be held in the newly renovated event spaces at WSU’s Student Center Building, will focus on case studies of Big Data deployment and use, explains Ratna Babu Chinnam, professor and co-director for the Big Data & Business Analytics Group at Wayne State University. 

“We have once again undertaken a case-centric approach this year. Presenters are required to come with a concrete case study,” he says.

Keynote speakers for the symposium include Lawrence Weber, director of analytics platform services for IBM, and Paul Ballew, global chief data and analytics officer for Ford Motor Company. Dozens of speakers and panelists from leading multinational technology firms fill the two-day program. Sponsors include widely recognized names such as SAS, Oracle, Lexis/Nexis and Big Data specialist firms such as Cloudera, DataStax, and MAPR.

Google and others define Big Data as an overarching term for using extremely large data sets and analyzing them computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations that are otherwise impossible to visualize or prove. The field is especially useful in analyzing human behavior such as purchasing decisions in environments like a manufacturing operation. Business analytics is the applied use of Big Data to solve problems or improve performance.

Wayne State’s College of Engineering has been a leader in the study of Big Data. The university created the symposium when it became clear that companies and other data-intensive users needed guidance to navigate the new discipline. 

“A lot of these companies three or four years ago just went to their biggest databases, more often than not their marketing department, for analyzing social network data. It didn’t take them far, because that’s not where the problems are that Big Data can resolve. Product development, manufacturing, service, life cycle — this is where the real opportunities are,” Chinnam says.

Wayne State is able to serve as a broker, bringing together major national and regional competitors to share their practical use of Big Data in a neutral analytical setting. Chinnam says this can help companies advance in making decisions and beginning pilot projects in Big Data.

Moving to effective use of analytics and Big Data can be difficult for well-established firms with large information technology operations, Chinnam says, because IT infrastructure tends to be inward-looking and task-specific. Corporate IT was built to enhance internal processes, whether manufacturing cars or selling insurance. Taking advantage of Big Data’s benefits is hard for them to do quickly.

“It is becoming clearer in talking to leading companies that many don’t have the data ecosystems needed to do any advanced analytics. Their internal data systems have grown organically within different functions, and different systems cannot easily be combined. Many of the leading multinational firms seem to be struggling, and a majority do not have enterprise data systems in place to handle this yet,” Chinnam says.

The most successful Big Data users, on the other hand — firms such as Amazon, Google and LinkedIn — began their data approach with both inward and outward-looking data sets, with the knowledge that data manipulation itself was their business lifeline. Businesses looking to copy their success need to develop that wider focus.

Equipping participants to venture into Big Data is what the symposium is all about. Most businesses cannot wait years for a return on investment, so the symposium aims to help attendees create pilot projects. These may be based on cloud computing with relatively low investment in hardware or IT assets.

“Attendees can walk away with a clear understanding of what’s realizable today, what the requirements are and, if they want to do something, how they can get started” Chinnam says.

The symposium features separate case study tracks on Big Data Technology, Analytics, and Business Management. To register for the event, visit the Symposium website.


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