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The other day, Lego became a hot topic of conversation with my son, a huge Star Wars Lego fan.  Not surprising, since Lego is the fourth-largest toy company in the world (and an SAP customer), and here at SAP, as well as at the Bilafer household we have a special relationship with the brand.  In Singapore there is a Lego exhibit at the ArtScience Museum where artist Nathan Sawaya uses Legos as his creative medium.  I was asking around the office if anyone had been to the exhibit and one of my co-workers shared a more personal story. He lamented the fact that thousands of Lego blocks were gathering dust in his basement – the result of years of collecting for his three sons, culminating in dozens of Lego sets and completed projects.

Being an analytics guy, that made me think about a Website called Rebrickable, a site for Lego enthusiasts.  People input Lego set IDs and their current inventory of Lego pieces and an analytics engine then crunches the data and makes recommendations on specific Lego creations they can build.  Rebrickable Screen shot.pngThis is like a second life for old and forgotten Lego sets and more importantly saves me from having to rebuild the same sets with my son every weekend.

After the euphoria of finding this site wore off, I started to think about how this was a great example of Big Data at work.  The interesting thing is that most consumers have no idea that this is a real use case for big data, they just use the solution to solve a problem. Then my mind naturally wandered off into the world of big data for the enterprise.

Legos are Data and vice versa

Lego builders must manage brick proliferation. Rebrickable is such a cool tool because it turns proliferation into possibility. The more sets you add to Rebrickable, the more possibilities it comes up with.

In a business context, Legos are data, the proliferation of data that sits like Lego bricks just waiting to be used to develop new possibilities. Maybe it’s data sets that were created for a different intent; they were great standalones for some purpose, and now you’re looking to do something incremental that’s more than just 1+1=2. Analytics solutions help you take your data sets and find all the relationships and correlations and potential different outcomes. As with Rebrickable, the more data sets you can bring, the more possibilities you can come up with.

Analytics brings the Rebrickable concept to the enterprise. The key to success is to think differently about the solution. Typically companies start by saying, let me see what I did last year and model on those results.

With predictive analytics, you put in all your data sets, and the solution looks for correlations that you never would have been able to find, like the famous ‘beer and diapers’ correlation. Beer and diapers are the two most frequently sold together grocery items, because men who go out late at night to buy diapers often pick up a six pack of beer. Now what you do with that information is another question, but now it’s yours. It’s the application of analytics to your unique combination of data sets that positions you to create the real value, the competitive differentiator or “Game Changer”.

The Art of the Possible

I get asked all the time, “What is big data, and how is it relevant to my business?” Where everyone falls down is specific use cases. We have some of course, but the thing about this is that it is going to be unique to your business and the data sets you have. You need to make a leap of faith and imagine that a new approach exists. Don’t get caught in the trap of doing business the “old way”. The business processes we’ve built for over the last ten, 15, 20 years have changed, and it’s not just that everything is faster. There’s mobility, there’s the cloud, there are so many disruptive forces. The companies that are willing to let go of preconceived notions and harness the power of analytics are the ones that are seeing amazing results.

I’m not saying, go out and spend a million dollars on something with no clear purpose. There are a lot of ways to get started and test things out in a controlled environment. HANA is now available in the cloud for $1 an hour. I just talked to the National University of Singapore and like many universities they are looking for companies to bring big data problems that their students can work on for free. Get on SCN, get in touch with the SAP mentor community and see what other companies are doing with big data.

Last but not least, I have to mention the APJ Analytics Plus program because it’s a great way to leverage your historic SAP BusinessObjects investment to access to all the latest and greatest analytics tools, so you can start tapping the value of your data and building something new with the sets you already own.

Follow me, @bilafer and @SAPAnalyticsAPJ, on Twitter and join the conversation around #SAPAPJ. 

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3 Comments

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  1. JV Faulks

    Hi Kurt,

    This is a really nice use case. To me, stories like this make “big data’ more tangible and real. I agree with you that the  ‘Art of possible’ requires a leap of faith. I also believe that it makes it more difficult when we segregate into technology topics instead of allowing ourselves the freedom to imagine the possibilities as technologies converge. We should see more and more interesting use cases. Maybe not ground breaking or earth shattering for the market, but it could drive transformation for the business as you say, “willing to let go of preconceived notions”.

    Now, I’m off to Rebrickable for new ideas on using the mountains of legos my kids have around the house.

    Thanks

    Vance

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    1. Kurt Bilafer Post author

      Thanks for the comment – change is always tough and we are asking people to rethink the way they did business.  As much as we have a shortage of Data Scientists, we also have a shortage of creative thinkers.  When was the last time someone asked you to throw away everything you knew and gave you the opportunity to start over and challenge your perceptions and previous experiences?  If we were provided this opportunity, would we know what to do?  I recently posted an HBR article about how we can prepare our kids – don’t just get them into college, get them thinking about problem solving.

      There are a lot of really cool use-cases, to me the challenge is we talk too much technology, and we scare the business, and secondly we have to make the solutions role or context relevant – story telling will help reduce fears but we need everyone talking about the benefits, not just the solution vendors.

      Lastly, check out http://www.nba.com/stats to see another cool big data use case – a vast amount of data going back to 1946, shown in user relevant (context) visualizations and you never know that it’s powered by SAP HANA and SAP BusinessObjects – and this is how it should be.

      Thanks

      Kurt

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  2. Edwin Geel

    i browsed around the rebrickable site and (although most lego’s here have been pushed off to nephews and nieces), one of the great things about the concept and translating this to business in my view is that you can share your new insights with others. I think this is one of the strong points in our big data experience too and the power of people inspiring other poeple should not be underestimated

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