The latest BriefingsDirect cloud innovation case study interview highlights how Full 360 uses big data and analytics to improve their applications support services for the financial industry — and beyond.
To learn how Full 360 uses HP Vertica in the Amazon cloud to provide data warehouse and BI applications and services to its customers from Wall Street to the local airport, BriefingsDirect sat down with Eric Valenzuela, Director of Business Development at Full 360, based in New York. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell us about Full 360.
Valenzuela: Full 360 is a consulting and services firm, and we purely focus on data warehousing, business intelligence (BI), and hosted solutions. We build and consult and then we do managed services for hosting those complex, sophisticated solutions in the cloud, in the Amazon cloud specifically.
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Gardner: And why is cloud a big differentiator for this type of service in the financial sector?
Valenzuela: It’s not necessarily just for finance. It seems to be beneficial for any company that has a large initiative around data warehouse and BI. For us, specifically, the cloud is a platform that we can develop our scripts and processes around. That way, we can guarantee 100 percent that we’re providing the same exact service to all of our customers.
We have quite a bit of intellectual property (IP) that’s wrapped up inside our scripts and processes. The cloud platform itself is a good starting point for a lot of people, but it also has elasticity for those companies that continue to grow and add to their data warehousing and BI solutions. [Register for the upcoming HP Big Data Conference in Boston on Aug. 10-13.]
Gardner: Eric, it sounds as if you’ve built your own platform as a service (PaaS) for your specific activities and development and analytics on top of a public cloud infrastructure. Is that fair to say?
Valenzuela: That’s a fair assumption.
Gardner: So as you are doing this cloud-based analytic service, what is it that your customers are demanding of you? What are the primary requirements you fulfill for them with this technology and approach?
Valenzuela: With data warehousing being rather new, Vertica specifically, there is a lack of knowledge out there in terms of how to manage it, keep it up and running, tune it, analyze queries and make sure that they’re returning information efficiently, that kind of thing. What we try to do is to supplement that lack of expertise.
Gardner: Leave the driving to us, more or less. You’re the plumbers and you let them deal with the proper running water and other application-level intelligence?
Valenzuela: We’re like an insurance policy. We do all the heavy lifting, the maintenance, and the management. We ensure that your solution is going to run the way that you expect it to run. We take the mundane out, and then give the companies the time to focus on building intelligent applications, as opposed to worrying about how to keep the thing up and running, tuned, and efficient.
Gardner: Given that Wall Street has been crunching numbers for an awfully long time, and I know that they have, in many ways, almost unlimited resources to go at things like BI — what’s different now than say 5 or 10 years ago? Is there more of a benefit to speed and agility versus just raw power? How has the economics or dynamics of Wall Street analytics changed over the past few years?
Valenzuela: First, it’s definitely the level of data. Just 5 or 10 years ago, either you had disparate pieces of data or you didn’t have a whole lot of data. Now it seems like we are just managing massive amounts of data from different feeds, different sources. As that grows, there has to be a vehicle to carry all of that, where it’s limitless in a sense.
Early on, it was really just a lack of the volume that we have today. In addition to that, 8 or 10 years ago BI was still rather new in what it could actually do for a company in terms of making agile decisions and informed decisions, decisions with intent.
So fast forward, and it’s widely accepted and adopted now. It’s like the cloud. When cloud first came out, everybody was concerned about security. How are we going to get the data in there? How are we going to stand this thing up? How are we going to manage it? Those questions come up a lot less now than they did even two years ago. [Register for the upcoming HP Big Data Conference in Boston on Aug. 10-13.]
Gardner: While you may have cut your teeth on Wall Street, you seem to be branching out into other verticals — gaming, travel, logistics. What are some of the other areas now to which you’re taking your services, your data warehouse, and your BI tools?
Following the trends
Valenzuela: It seems like we’re following the trends. Recently it’s been gaming. We have quite a few gaming customers that are just producing massive amounts of data.
There’s also the airline industry. The customers that we have in airlines, now that they have a way to — I hate this term — slice and dice their data, are building really informed, intelligent applications to service their customers, customer appreciation. It’s built for that kind of thing. Airlines are now starting to see what their competition is doing. So they’re getting on board and starting to build similar applications so they are not left behind.
Banking was pretty much the first to go full force and adopt BI as a basis for their practice. Finance has always been there. They’ve been doing it for quite a long time.
Gardner: So as the director of business development, I imagine you’re out there saying, “We can do things that couldn’t have been done before at prices that weren’t available before.” That must give you almost an unlimited addressable market. How do you know where to go next to sell this?
Valenzuela: It’s kind of an open field. From my perspective, I look at the different companies out there that come to me. At first, we were doing a lot of education. Now, it’s just, “Yes, we can do this,” because these things are proven. We’re not proving any concepts anymore. Everything has already been done, and we know that we can do it.
It is an open field, but we focus purely on the cloud. We expect all of our customers will be in the Amazon cloud. It seems that now I am teaching people a little bit more — just because it’s cloud, it’s not magic. You still have to do a lot of work. It’s still an infrastructure.
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But we come from that approach and we make sure that the customer is properly aligned with the vision that this is not just a one- or two-month type commitment. We’re not just going to build a solution, put it in our pocket, and walk away. We want to know that they’re fully committed for 6-12 months.
Otherwise, you’re not going to get the benefits of it. You’re just going to spend the money and the effort, and you’re not really going to get any benefits out of it if you’re not going to be committed for the longer period of time. There still are some challenges with the sales and business development.
Gardner: Given this emphasis on selling the cloud model as much as the BI value, you needed to choose an analytics platform that was cloud-friendly and that was also Amazon AWS cloud-friendly. Tell me how Vertica and Amazon — and your requirements — came together.
This was right around the time when Amazon announced that they were offering its public cloud platform, EC2. So it made a lot of sense to look at the cloud as being a vision, looking at the cloud as a platform, looking at column databases as a future way of managing BI and analytics, and then putting the two together.
It was more or less a timing thing. Amazon was there. It was new technology, and we saw the future in that. Analytics was newly adopted. So now you have the column database that we can leverage as well. So blend the two together and start building some platform that hadn’t been done yet.
Gardner: What about lessons learned along the way? Are there some areas to avoid or places that you think are more valuable that people might appreciate? If someone were to begin a journey toward a combination of BI, cloud, and vertical industry tool function, what might you tell them to be wary of, or to double-down on?
Valenzuela: We forged our own way. We couldn’t learn from our competitors’ mistakes because we were the ones that were creating the mistakes. We had to to clear those up and learn from our own mistakes as we moved forward.
Gardner: So perhaps a lesson is to be bold and not to be confined by the old models of IT?
Valenzuela: Definitely that. Definitely thinking outside the box and seeing what the cloud can do, focus on forgetting about old IT and then looking at cloud as a new form of IT. Understanding what it cannot do as a basis, but really open up your mind and think about it as to what it can actually do, from an elasticity perspective.
There are a lot of Vertica customers out there that are going to reach a limitation. That may require procuring more hardware, more IT staff. The cloud aspect removes all of that.
Gardner: I suppose it allows you as a director of business development to go downstream. You can find smaller companies, medium-sized enterprises, and say, “Listen, you don’t have to build a data warehouse at your own expense. You can start doing BI based on a warehouse-as-a-service model, pay as you go, grow as you learn, and so forth.”
Valenzuela: Exactly. Small or large, those IT departments are spending that money anyway. They’re spending it on servers. If they are on-premises, the cost of that server in the cloud should be equal or less. That’s the concept. [Register for the upcoming HP Big Data Conference in Boston on Aug. 10-13.]
If you’re already spending the money, why not just migrate it and then partner with a firm like us that knows how to operate that. Then, we become your augmented experts, or that insurance policy, to make sure that those things are going to be running the way you want them to, as if it were your own IT department.
Gardner: What are the types of applications that people have been building and that you’ve been helping them with at Full 360? We’re talking about not just financial, but enterprise performance management. What are the other kinds of BI apps? What are some of the killer apps that people have been using your services to do?
Valenzuela: Specifically, with one of our large airlines, it’s customer appreciation. The level of detail on their customers that they’re able to bring to the plane, to the flight attendants, in a handheld device is powerful. It’s powerful to the point where you remember that treatment that you got on the plane. So that’s one thing.
That’s something that you don’t get if you fly a lot, if you fly other airlines. That’s just kind of some detail and some treatment that you just don’t get. I don’t know how that could be driven if it weren’t for analytics and if it weren’t for technology like Vertica to be able to provide that information.
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