Ford Speeds Along the Big-Data Highway


If Mike Cavaretta, a Ford analyst, had his way, he'd be able to march around the company and pinpoint where every last dataset is stored and replicated.

But that's impossible, as he told attendees during his "Where will Big Data and Data Science take O.R.?" session at this week's INFORMS Analytics Conference in San Antonio. Of course, the sheer volume of it is one issue. By one count in 2009, the company had about 830 terabytes of data. It's not hard to imagine that being well into the petabyte realm now.

Consider sensor data from Ford autos. The Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid, generates 25 gigabytes of data hourly, as described in a January Forbes article citing stats from Ford CTO Paul Mascarenas:

The car "has more than 145 actuators, 4,716 signals, and 74 sensors to monitor the perimeter around the car as well as the carís functions and driver responses. These sensors produce more than 25 gigabytes of data hourly from more than 70 on-board computers that analyze it in real-time."

That's a lot of data, but not when compared to this: A Fusion Energi test vehicle outfitted with multiple high-resolution sensors might generate one terabyte of data in a single four-hour test, Cavaretta said.

What will Ford do with all that on-board data? Would sending it out for external storage and subsequent analysis even be possible? Would mashing it up with open data and making it available for smart city initiatives be feasible? Ford is pondering such questions, according to Cavaretta, who carries the official title of technical leader, predictive analytics at Ford Research & Advanced Engineering.

Culture comes into play, too. Sometimes certain areas of the company don't really want to share their data. So Ford has lots of "dark data," or data that's hidden away from the enterprise data warehouse in "shadow IT."

But at least that data is there somewhere. Another challenge Cavaretta cited during his presentation is that some datasets just aren't available anymore. "I've run into too many situations where I'd be talking to internal customers, I'd say, 'It'd be great if we had this data,' and they'd say, 'Oh, but we did... but we only save it for 30 days.'"

As a result of his experiences with such scenarios, he suggested that companies planning to conduct big-data analytics start collecting data at the lowest possible level and sooner, rather than later. Watch the All Analytics video below with Cavaretta to learn more about Ford and its big-data use.

Despite the challenges not only with the volume but also with the variety and velocity of big-data, he believes big-data will flatten out, and the data problem will be solved. "The focus will come back to the analytics, the machine learning, the statistics. The techniques we're good at applying will come back to the fore."

I like that line of thinking. How about you?

Related post:

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Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/15/2013 1:29:54 PM
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Hi Jeff. Jill is always a good read; I love her self-proclaimed "trenchant, irreverent style"! You can find more of her stuff in her regular blog, here.

Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/15/2013 11:50:04 AM
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That is a good read.  Jill sums up the tension and atmosphere at nearly all IT budget meetings I've ever been to.  I think in the heat of these battle you have to remember, it's not about you and your department, but about what is best for the company.  Idealistic?  Yeah, probably.

Re: Lessons from Explorer
  • 4/15/2013 8:21:27 AM
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I would think that Ford is thinking less Explorer roll over and more Toyota run away vehicles.  As we move to more fly by wire based systems it's going to be important that a manufacturer can prove that someone stomped on the accelerator and not the brake when their car runs through a neighbor's living room.  I also think that part of the data collection will be for warranty issues.  With warranty periods extending farther and farther out I think they would to cut off the ones abusing cars and this might be a way to do that.

Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/15/2013 8:17:02 AM
NO RATINGS

Hi Jeff. Shadow IT is an interesting challenge, to say the least. Lots of ink has been devoted to it over the last year or so because, as Jill Dyche, vice president of thought leadership at SAS, wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog last fall, "Now Shadow IT has burst out of the closet and is waltzing around the corporation, leaving IT departments rushing to do damage control." The piece overall is a good read: Shadow IT is Out of the Closet.

Re: Lessons from Explorer
  • 4/15/2013 8:12:31 AM
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Woulda, coulda, shoulda.... I don't know the state of Ford's analytics capabilties during the rollover crisis but I'm guessing a corporate fiasco such as this one was would prompt any company to reassess how it's gathering data, analyzing that data, and distributed the intelligence gained from it.

Re: Lessons from Explorer
  • 4/15/2013 7:34:15 AM
NO RATINGS

Maybe. But if that was the case, wouldn't a lot of manufacturers who have had major recalls be doing the same thing? And I'm not sure that they are.

Lessons from Explorer
  • 4/14/2013 3:56:28 PM
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I wonder if part of the influence for Ford to go big on Data is the problems they had with their Explorer with rollovers and trying to tie the problem to Firestone tires. Perhaps if they had better data at the time they could have acted sooner to resolve the problem, change their tire vendor, or react to their PR disaster post haste.

Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/14/2013 2:30:25 PM
NO RATINGS

I like the three blink technology, though I don't believe it will put an end to those who endless have their turn signal on.  Simply, because they have it on because they really don't know where they are going. 

It is an impressive amount of data collection that can lead to better made cars. It would be interesting to make the connections to see what actions and behaviors lead down to the breaking of parts and in what sequence they happen in. 

I wonder if when buying the car, individuals have to sign off on a disclosure to okay all the data collected.  Since it includes things such as GPS, speed and opening and closing of doors. 

Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/14/2013 9:29:06 AM
NO RATINGS

I say they do.  But only if they promote from within.  Seems that Ford now, with it's current success should promote from within.  It's tough to know when to do this and when not to.  I guess I've never understood how a person who runs one company could possibly be qualified to run a different one.  Seems to me that every company is unique.

Re: Shadow IT
  • 4/14/2013 8:27:34 AM
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Do you think the company will maintain its commitment even after the pending retirement if the CEO?

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