Netflix uses the OODA loop to stay ahead of the competition

OODA loops, the death of the IT department and personal privacy. The Data Mill brings news from the Gartner Catalyst conference.

Finding a competitive edge is key to survival in an age of digital disruption. If there was a recurring theme at last week's Gartner Catalyst conference in San Diego, that was it. CIOs looking to get a leg up on the competition might want to take a page from the Netflix handbook and its survival method of choice: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. It's called the OODA loop, a military tactic used by the United States Air Force in dogfights during the Korean War.

Nicole LaskowskiNicole Laskowski

To begin, look for land-grab opportunities, pain points for customers or moves by your competitors to respond to, said Adrian Cockcroft, director of architecture for the cloud systems team at Netflix and a guest speaker at the four-day conference. His case in point: Just weeks after Google announced per-minute billing for the cloud, Microsoft released a similar product. "That's a really fast competitive move by Microsoft," he said.

Once an opportunity is identified, analyze the problem (orient); plan a response and get buy-in from the organization (decide); and then implement the new product or feature (act). To wrap up, return to observation and measure customer reaction.

"If you can do that faster than your competitors, then your competitors can never figure out exactly what you're going to do next," Cockcroft said.

Your phone is watching you

Data privacy concerns continue to gain traction, and for good reason. A report by researchers from MIT, Universite catholique de Louvain and Harvard University revealed that mobile data is actually more personally identifiable than a fingerprint.

According to Unique in the Crowd: The Privacy Bounds of Human Mobility: "In a dataset where the location of an individual is specified hourly, and with a spatial resolution equal to that given by the carrier's antennas, four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely identify 95% of the individuals."

That's four data points compared to the 12 it takes to uniquely identify someone by actual fingerprint, the authors reported.

Mind your T's and Q's

What's the biggest entry level use case for Hadoop? It's not what many probably assume -- tackling unstructured data. Instead, it's about easing the pain of ELT -- the practice of extracting data, loading it into the data warehouse and transforming it into the appropriate format.

That's according to Amr Awadallah, co-founder and chief technology officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cloudera: "The data warehouse was not built to do 'T'; the data warehouse was built to do 'Q' -- queries."

Transforming data inside the data warehouse brings everything -- including queries -- to a crawl, he said. Companies looking for better operational efficiency are turning to Hadoop to offload the transformation piece -- and apparently with remarkable results: Five-hour ELT jobs are accomplished in minutes with Hadoop, according to Awadallah.

The death of IT?

It might be easy to accept that IT departments are changing, but dying off? Now that's a tougher pill to swallow, especially at a conference meant for technical professionals.

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In a recent Gartner survey, more than 80% of 330 IT professionals reported that the future of IT jobs will fall outside of a traditional IT department. And more than 60% of respondents are seeing an increase in application development outside of their department right now. Go ahead and blame it on the usual suspects -- consumerization and commodification.

But the news isn't all bad. While the concept of an IT department might be waning, the job of the IT professional is not: Seventy-six percent of respondents believe technical careers can offer long-term job stability. "The message isn't that IT is dying," said Jack Santos, research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "The message is that there's a difference between the IT department and the IT skillset."

Say what?!?

"A good vision without implementation is a hallucination." -- Mei Selvage, Gartner analyst

"The key to understanding the value you provide is not to ask what do you do; it's to ask what are my customers trying to accomplish." -- Adam Pisoni, co-founder and CTO of Yammer

"To do things you've never done before, you've got to start by doing things you've never done before." -- Mike Rayburn, musician and motivational speaker at Gartner Catalyst

"Storage is going to increase by 650% by 2016, and the key here is that it's outpacing IT budgets." -- Matthew Brisse, Gartner research director

"We see the next wave of innovation coming around the ability to query both structured and unstructured data within the same query." -- Eron Kelly, general manager, SQL Server marketing

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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