WashingtonExec sat down with Rod Fontecilla, Vice President of Unisys, to discuss managing unstructured social media data, the importance of a secure storage strategy and what questions should be asked when acquiring big data.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us a little bit about your background.
Rod Fontecilla: I started my career as a professor at the University of Maryland in the Computer Science Department. After spending a few years there I went to Booz Allen and spent about 15 years at Booz. I was a Principal there running the law enforcement business as well as part of the DHS business – always on the technology side of the equation. I’ve been at Unisys for the past year. I’m a Vice President and run the application modernization and outsourcing practice for Unisys Federal Systems, essentially everything that concerns software development, system engineering, mobile applications, as well as data management including Big Data.
WashingtonExec: Why do you think Big Data is a big buzz word right now? Why is it suddenly in high demand by the federal government?
Rod Fontecilla: As a society, we are generating a significant amount of data. It has increased exponentially. Every day we generate terabytes instead of bytes of data. This is all due to mobile devices and the social network and better bandwidth. People are realizing that out of that data you can get a significant amount of information that is very useful to increase efficiencies, to be better at business – private industry has known this for many, many years. The more data you collect and analyze, the more nuggets you can get out of it to help sell your products. The government is realizing there is a lot of information out there, and if you start analyzing this huge amount of data you are going to be able to serve the public more effectively.
WashingtonExec: How would you describe the process of Big Data?
Rod Fontecilla: At Unisys, we have come up with a very interesting methodology for addressing Big Data. We call it the “4 A’s” approach to Big Data. The first of the 4 A’s addresses the acquisition of the data, where the data sources are – are they structured or unstructured? The second A refers to the access to that data; how are you going to access it? What kind of tools are you going to use? Then comes the analysis of the data. So once you have one of these infrastructures, how do you find the important nuggets within the data? How do you start transforming the data into information and knowledge? Finally, after you have done the analysis, how do you make those nuggets available to other people? That is an important thing. How do you visualize it? How do you allow people to run queries and do searches on it very easily and very seamlessly so they can get access to that knowledge base?
WashingtonExec: Why do you think there is this new need for people to start archiving unstructured data, such as emails and social media interactions?
Rod Fontecilla: There is so much data created and generated by everyone whether on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, emails, text messages – you name it. It is all unstructured. The idea is that there is very important and significant information in there and you need to link the dots to find and create the right type of information and knowledge that you need to help make business decisions — whether that business is catching bad guys in law enforcement or getting consumers to buy your product as a retailer. Essentially, if people on Facebook are talking or tweeting about certain things they do, you want to know about it because you are going to be able to react more efficiently based on the information that you are collecting.
WashingtonExec: How would you say Big Data is changing the way the Intelligence Community collects or analyzes data?
Rod Fontecilla: I think it affects both collection and analysis. When you start looking at voice and text and the whole range of unstructured data, it seems like the intelligence community is collecting every type of data. Again, the point is that by collecting this humongous amount of data, they are able to find actionable information that allows them to have a better grasp of how they are going to catch the bad guys. The Intelligence Community has been at this for many years. I think what they are dealing with now is the “three V’s” – the volume, velocity and variety of the data; I don’t think they were expecting that the society would be generating that much data in such variety and in such volumes. Now they are going to have to determine how they are going to store all of this information. How can they analyze all of that information?
WashingtonExec: How is the government compared to the private sector?
Rod Fontecilla: This is new for many people, but the commercial sector has seen the economical benefits very quickly. They can get to the consumer much more effectively by analyzing this huge amount of data. On the government side, there are certain projects such as the Human Genome where they can very quickly get the benefits of analyzing a humongous amount of data very efficiently. The government is spending quite a bit of money on Big Data. The White House recently announced they are going to be investing a significant amount of money on Big Data, so I think the government will eventually catch up.
WashingtonExec: What is the biggest roadblock or conflict that you’ve dealt with trying to implement Big Data?
Rod Fontecilla: I think the key is having very strong methodology and processes to help you digest and analyze and provide accessibility to data. Second, I think we need a robust and smart storage strategy. The third challenge is how to best utilize the cloud for Big Data solutions, especially with the amount of computing power that you need to analyze the data as well as the storage capacity you are going to need. Perhaps the cloud is going to be the only place where you are going to be able to do this. The cloud combined with a strong methodology is what you need to be successful in taking advantage of Big Data.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job?
Rod Fontecilla: My first job was painting walls, construction painting. It was easy to do. I didn’t make a lot of money.
WashingtonExec: What is your favorite book?
Rod Fontecilla: The Innovator’s Dilemma has caught my attention because I love innovation. It was very famous a few years back. It is all about why companies that are very successful eventually fail. It is because they don’t understand how to innovate. For example, a few years back if someone would have told you that camera film one day might not exist anymore, you would have said, ‘That cannot be true. Everybody is buying films and cameras. How can you say it won’t exist in a few years?’ Look what happened. Many companies are no longer with us because they didn’t know how to innovate or adapt to new ways of doing business.