In this edition of The Digital Change Podcast, our host, David Swank (CEO of Innovation Platform) speaks with Joe Voelz (Director of Strategic Alliances at Pitney Bowes) about their centralized online data hub. Read the full transcript below and learn how this "system of systems" simplifies complex data for all constituents so it can be utilized in a variety of smart developments. Read the full transcript below.
David: Welcome to another edition of The Digital Change Podcast. A podcast where we talk about the digital economy and core strategies that are needed to capture the value of what's happening in the digitization of everything. We're seeing that data is coming at us in multiple ways. We talk about things like big data and we're fortunate today to have with us, Joe Voelz, who is with Pitney Bowes. He is their Director of Strategic Alliances. It is great to have you here, Joe. I've known Joe for about half of a year, six months to eight months, and it's really been a pleasure, Joe, getting to know you. Joe is not quite a millennial and I share that because I think it's important to know that it's been a pleasure getting to hear fresh ideas and fresh perspectives about data. Today, Joe, we are seeing that 90% of data has been created in the last two years, which is really pretty astounding. I read a statistic the other day that by 2020, it's estimated that 1.7 million bytes of data will be created every second for every person on Earth. It has also been estimated that 80% of that data is unstructured data and that is so important to our discussion today.
It's so important to also understand that we live in a world in this digital economy where we can truly leverage data to create an economy and quality of life that begins to go beyond what many of us would even imagine. I recently read a book called Abundance and it talks about the future is better than you think. Peter Diamandis wrote this. Some of his key insights that lead into our discussion today are that many business models today have proven one of the better responses to the threat of the scarcity of anything is not to try to slice the pie thinner. Rather it's to figure out how to make more pies. I think that's what we're talking about in terms of data. In one of the last statements he made which leads into the question I want to ask you, he said: ‘humanity is now entering a period of a radical transformation in which technology and data have the potential to significantly raise the basic standard of living for every man, woman and child on the planet’. That's a pretty bold statement, Joe. The key word that I want to use in framing this question is he [Diamandis] used the word potential, potentially significant. The reason I say potential is because we have to have database structures like the hub from Pitney Bowes to unleash this potential. Pitney Bowes has created some amazing tools. Could you share with us, Joe, how those tools are going to be pivotal to these complex problems and capturing the value of data and what we call a single view?
Joe: First off, David, thanks for the invite. Absolutely, I can expand on what the data hub provides Innovation Platform. First, I want to call out those two stats you read: the amount of data that's being created and the potential to significantly raise the standard of living. It's not just about the data and the amount of data, it's what we can do with that data. Our data hub leverages a graph database and the likes of Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It's all about being able to relate that data, then be able to search for that data and pull it out of that data hub and do something with it. As we have this conversation today, I'll give you a couple different examples and some areas of how we can leverage that data and then search through it, visualize it and do something with it.
David: That's great and I've actually had the opportunity to see that in action. You're referring to kind of this Google experience, if you will, and we're all used to that. Where we actually search something, and we get results. Then we're able to take all that insight, all that information and really begin to make decisions or to be more informed. Joe, could you share a little bit about how the hub is really that type of an experience?
Joe: Absolutely. The ability to give non-technical people a search experience like Google for their data and any types of data and see those relationships, provides a unique experience. What we've done is leveraged a graph database underneath and we've built some technology on top of it. Once somebody is able to search the data, they can then start to apply advanced analytics to it. In the last 25-30 years, when you've tried to do advanced analytics, the hurdle has been: ‘I can't get the data out of a database’. Well, we have solved that. We've simplified the process. Now, we can give anybody, whether it's technical or non-technical people, the ability to pull the data out and then apply those advanced analytics to it.
David: I think about some real practical experiences and uses where this would be a tremendous value. When we look at infrastructure and we look at how siloed it is, whether it be transportation infrastructure, electrical infrastructure, water infrastructure gas infrastructure, all that seems to be, in many cases, legacy systems that are disparate and siloed systems. Even beyond that, they represent multiple sectors. You may have different utilities that hold those assets. One of the things that excites me about the hub and what you're describing as we think about it in the context of smart cities, smart buildings and smart developments is recognizing that we can not only pull data from disparate databases that reside in an organization, but we could even begin to pull data from across sectors into a hub experience, a Google type experience. Could you share more about that because I think those are real practical applications that serve as a catalyst for making the kind of decisions we're going to be making?
Joe: When you think about what you just described of pulling data across different databases, different sources, that's usually the first step that gets overlooked. ‘How do I actually integrate with those different data sources when most people want to keep control of their data?’ So, part of the platform and the ease of use of the platform is we give you the ability or we provide the tools to go get that data from all those different data sources, whether it be utilities, smart buildings, smart cities, to name some of the different examples that you just described there. Once we pull it into the hub, the actual data hub is smart enough to know how to start relating that data across different sources, whether it be structured, unstructured, different formats of those different sources. Once we've actually done all of that and defined those relationships, then it literally is a google-like experience to pull and search that data out of it.
David: We hear a lot about the shared economy, about network imperatives in other words, new ecosystems. Really, what we're saying when we talk about that is how it’s going to require us to start having convergent architectures such as this. Where we really can begin to put in a single view the assets that serve customers and constituents depend upon, whether it be city government, municipals, cooperatives, whomever it may be, to make decisions that are in their best interest. When I see what this hub represents, to me, it is going to require this type of system, a system of systems that allows us to begin to look at the city in a more holistic way. Can you share some insights yourself on just how important that's going to be when building the smart cities of the future?
Joe: One analogy I always like to use to describe the data hub is that it allows different people, different organizations to search the same data that’s then related but ask different questions. So, if you're somebody that is looking at a smart building versus a smart city versus just a citizen in a building in a city, we all need to leverage the same data but we're asking different questions. If I'm the citizen then I'm asking a different question of that data than the owner of a smart building or the mayor of a smart city. But we're probably leveraging the same data when you talk about different data sources and bring it together so a system of systems or a single view inside of a data hub allows somebody to do that, whether it be the mayor, the owner, the citizen. Again, the ability to access that data and ask those different questions is unique and it's powerful.
David: I think what I hear too, Joe, is that we're really not talking about a technology challenge or issue, we're talking about an information challenge or issue. I recently read from a distinguished scientist from IBM who said the biggest opportunity in water isn't water. It's information. What he's thinking about is waste. Right now, in America, 70% of our water is used for agriculture, yet 50% of the food produced gets thrown away. 5% of our energy goes to pump water but 20% of that water streams through holes in leaky pipes. The examples are endless, states this scientist. His point was that the bottom line is the same. Show me a water problem and I'll show you an information problem. I think we could take that to show a transportation problem, show an electrical problem, whatever may be. We're in that era today where most of our problems are more data problems and the ability to view the data. Could you share a little more insight in regards to that?
Joe: Of course. That last part of that statement, ‘I'll show you an information problem’, what he's just described is not being able to relate data across those different sources, whether it be the percentage of water used for residential growing crops, food produced, food thrown away, leaky pipes. All you're talking about is different sets of data that aren't related. That's what this data hub does. It allows you to relate that data. When you come back to ‘it's an information problem’, it's not necessarily an information problem. It's ‘how do I actually relate those data sets or points to be able to do something actionable with it?’ and that's what the data hub does.
David: I would tell you, Joe, I'm excited about what this hub can do for the Innovation Platform and what it is doing. We're looking forward to the journey ahead with Pitney Bowes and individuals like yourself. I can't share enough that I think we can create some great applications, but if we don't have individuals like yourself that bring the skills and talents that you do, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Thank you for all that you're doing and continue to do. I hope, Joe, that you'll come back and continue to talk about this quote “single view” that we're discussing today. There's a lot of discussion today about distribution system operators and digital operation centers and what they stand for is this single view, this ability to bring data together and began to look at it in ways that we've never looked at it before with relational data. Before we conclude, is there any last thoughts you want to share with our audience, Joe?
Joe: I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey over the last six months, as you mentioned, from when we first started the podcast and what the next six months have in store.
David: Good deal. Well, I hope our audience gets a chance some time to meet you and really experience the wealth of knowledge you bring to this these subject matters. We appreciate so much your joining us today in this Digital Change Podcast.
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