Last week, on behalf of Saugatuck, I journeyed south to Miami, Florida, where I moderated two executive panels at CDM Media’s annual CIO Summit.

CDM Media runs a series of CIO-targeted events – some vertically focused others functional or topic-specific. What made this event especially relevant to the Saugatuck research agenda was the very large-enterprise orientation of the roughly 50 CIOs and senior IT leaders who attended, across a number of relevant IT investment and management topics. The event was well run and fostered a very intimate and open exchange among the delegates.

Jeff Hooper, a senior IT leader at BT, kicked off the event with his opening keynote, titled “Positioning IT to Fuel Innovation.” Hooper sounded a number of important themes that are consistent with recent Saugatuck research – and that were highlighted throughout the sessions at the event. He emphasized that IT organizations all face a “crisis of opportunity,” given the significant technological changes that are occurring (Cloud, mobility, unified communications, BI, among others), and as the business increasingly demands support for a variety of evolving priorities.

While this includes the age-old mantra to lower IT costs, he likewise emphasized evolving business requirements to achieve greater flexibility and speed, and the continuing need to improve the customer experience. Consistent with our Cloud Business research agenda, he also emphasized the need for IT to increasingly help improve existing products, and to support the creation of new products – especially in industry sectors where the core products and services offered are heavily IT-centric. Saugatuck would add to this list of IT opportunities a growing priority to facilitate business process improvement, especially given the advent of both tactical and core software-as-a-service solutions, and next-gen mobility capabilities.

On Day 2, I led two panels – the first was “Transitioning to the Cloud – Lessons Learned and Industry Best Practices.” Joining me on the panel were Rich Roseman, VP of IT and CIO, at News Corp., John Collier, Chief Technology Architect & Corporate VP, Wal-Mart, Melissa Scheppele, CIO and VP Business Systems, Cooper Industries, and Hugh Miller, CTO, City of San Antonio.

One of the most fascinating takeaways from the panel was the degree and speed with which Cloud is now so completely accepted and fundamental to IT planning and strategy – which is a significant sea change from as little as 18 months ago. There was strong consensus that Cloud is just another weapon in the growing arsenal of tools to address evolving business needs – with a de facto recognition that the future will definitely be a mixed environment of on-prem, hosted, and public/private Cloud services, including hybrid deployments. The range of services now being used by the panelists was significant, including both tactical and strategic use of Cloud business solutions / SaaS, broad use of Cloud-based collaboration / social tools (for internal and external purposes), and a growing commitment around Private Clouds for  discrete workloads and to handle excess capacity / peak load requirements.

Rich Roseman from News Corp. shared a sentiment that all of the panelists seemed to hold, that “the Cloud isn’t all that new,” and that companies should primarily focus on discrete wins and experimentation where visible benefits can be accrued.  John Collier from Wal-Mart emphasized that “we all have to embrace Cloud” – stressing that Wal-Mart is taking a “layered approach” to the Cloud. To Collier, the Cloud means “service fabric”.

Melissa Scheppele from Cooper Industries emphasized how she and her colleagues viewed the Cloud merely as “another form of outsourcing business processes.” Scheppele primarily focuses on process areas where there are a limited number of users and where it doesn’t make sense to stand up a traditional infrastructure and/or app. Hugh Miller from the City of San Antonio focused on the emergence of government-to-government Cloud aggregation services.

All of the panelists emphasized the need to focus on vendor management, contracts and TCO as evolving core competencies, and to not only look at using Cloud services internally, but to assess how they might be of value externally as well – either to support consumers, business partners and/or in the case of government, citizens.

The second panel was fascinating and insightful as well -- “Business Database Management: Dealing with Big Data & Information Overload”. Joining Saugatuck on the panel were Jim Sullivan, Director, Business Intelligence, Shane Company, Nithin Johnson, Head of Analytics, Business Intelligence, Citi, and Jared Benesh, GM, Sprint Nextel, Ron Avnur, CTO, MarkLogic, and David Wiseman, Director of Business Development, Sybase.

No doubt, we are now in the age of “Big Data” – with the volumes of data doubling every two years, with approximately 70 percent of that data “newly created.” As is well understood, over the past few years we have shifted beyond data marts and internal aggregation, to more direct and real-time approaches. At the same time, we have begun to shift beyond the relational model to columnar, NoSQL and in-memory approaches. Powerful predictive capabilities are now generally available and achievable.

For the most part, all three of the IT executives on the Big Data panel shared that they were not yet using NoSQL approaches, although they clearly viewed this as an evolving set of technologies that could be leveraged in the future. The panel dug deep concerning the evolution of predictive analytics, as well as the role of modeling and simulation. Nithin Johnson from Citi shared how they are using Big Data in support of their asset managers, with a heavy emphasis on predictive analytics in terms of how markets will evolve.

Likewise, Jim Sullivan from Shane shared how they are using Big Data to help understand buyer behavior and to better understand inventory churn, as well as forecasting how they can support future demand relative to changing commodity markets. Jared Benesh from Sprint shared insights from their Big Data experience leveraging social media. While Cloud-based solutions were clearly under consideration, these firms are mostly leveraging on-prem assets. While they very much were open to new opportunities, overcoming some of the regulatory challenges vis-à-vis leveraging “public” or “private” Cloud alternatives was expressed as a significant challenge.

Saugatuck walked away from this panel with a clear sense that Big Data means many things to many people, and that the language used to describe the evolution of Big Data platforms and advanced analytic capabilities needs to get crisper and more focused – as the range of problems and solutions is clearly exploding. Most Big Data problems today are still very much focused around structured data, although the emergence of powerful new tools and capabilities to address unstructured data are clearly something that sophisticated BI managers are very much interested in exploring.

In early December I will be participating in another CDM Media CIO event – this time called the CIO Cloud Summit (Scottsdale, Arizona – December 8-9, 2011). I am looking forward to working with the hosts as the event MC, as well as to lead a panel of distinguished IT leaders entitled “Developing Custom Business Applications in the Cloud”. I’ll report back about some of the key takeaways from this event in a future Trip Report, or via one of our regular research channels (e.g., Research Alerts via link below).

This blog originally appeared at Saugatuck Lens360.