Big Daddy applies big data to manufacturing

Posted on 29 Aug 2012

The ‘Big Daddy of Big Data’ talks to TM’s Kimberley Barber about the future of big data and its application in manufacturing.

Chris Roche has landed himself the grand title of the ‘Big Daddy of Big Data’. Born of a marketing plan and his wealth of knowledge in computing and artificial intelligence, combined with his background as a chartered engineer, ‘big data daddy’ has become the ideal job for a man who says he is actually quite small.

Chris Roche, regional director, Greenplum, EMC's big data division
Chris Roche, regional director, Greenplum, EMC's Big Data division

The IT world is abuzz with the phrase ‘big data’, while many of us don’t know its meaning.

Chris Roche is regional director of Greenplum, the big data division of EMC and has become something of an expert on it. Greenplum recently proposed a big data plan to the UK government that, if implemented, would save the government a staggering £33bn per year.

The money saving claim is very attractive in these times of economic uncertainty. As the rising cost of raw materials and staffing costs compound with a weak interest rate, manufacturers are searching for ways to maximise their profit. One way to do this is to use the endless stream of data that today’s modern world produces.

As technology advances and usage increases, the rate at which data is captured is growing exponentially. Everything, from the time and way you use your mobile phone to the more advanced way a product is mass manufactured, can be captured and analysed. Sometimes there is so much data, it can’t all be stored.

Mr Roche explains: “Manufacturers have to manage their operation efficiently and they have high fixed costs – because of this, keeping the supply chain efficient becomes very important. For example, if they want to improve the quality of what is being manufactured, this is one area where big data could help them out.

He continues: “Manufacturers take lots of data on a whole number of things, like voltage and temperature, what they tend to do is only take some of the information because their operations cannot handle all of it. Big data would allow them to keep all that data and then correlate it with data from the field and look at how they could improve their quality over a large amount of data points.”

Not only would it improve product quality, it would also allow manufacturers to keep track of what their machines are doing and recognise distress signals before the part breaks down, saving time and money.

According to Roche, the benefits don’t stop there. He says: “It enables you to look at trends, such as those on social media. You can look at trends and act accordingly.”

The recent H1N1 virus was picked up on Twitter and that allowed pharmaceutical companies to increase production of their cold and flu tablets, weeks before the virus really took hold.

Mr Roche says that big data has thrown up some surprising results too: “One of the movie companies asked us to look at what makes people go to the movies, they assumed it was weather patterns or rain but it turned out the most correlating thing was air pressure. What big data enables you to do is to look at all these different points of data and work out patterns to spot a trend or something that you wouldn’t see because you didn’t have the information available.”

When asked why Greenplum stands out in the big data industry, Roche talks about its unique Unified Analytics Platform and accompanying software Chorus, which ‘allows you to load and query any type of data sets – structured and unstructured – very quickly.’

He says the company’s vision is based on ‘innovation, collaboration and agility’. Greenplum wanted to create a way for data scientists to work together. “In the past it was difficult to get people to collaborate and share information. Our software – Chorus – allows data scientists to work together. It allows any analytic model to run in our database, regardless of the language it was written in and by doing so it allows you to be very agile,” Roche says.

“In the past it could take weeks to get information on trends, we have literally sped that process up. It makes the whole area of big data very productive.”

Big data is impacting in many areas as people begin to realise the potential of giving highly personalised quotes and having the information to know exactly how to improve efficiency. Insurance, banking, healthcare and manufacturing are all industries that are on the verge of entering the big data realm.

Roche concludes: “If you could get down to the individual component and make a decision on that one component it is much better and much more efficient than taking a broad sample.”

Read Chris’ ‘Big Daddy of Big Data’ blog at