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How Frederick the Great and Napoleon Taught Me to Become a CTO | @BigDataExpo #BigData

He who knew HOW to best use the available technology and was ORGANIZED to take advantage of it, won

This guest blog is provided by Brandon Kaier (@bkaier), Field CTO, Mid-Market Americas for EMC. Kaier is also the founder of EMC’s Pathfinder team which is a group of select EMC Sales Engineers chartered to change the way that EMC engages with its customers.

Those of us who have been in IT since the early 90’s are all guilty of training our internal business partners to ask us for things that they don’t really want. We have trained them to ask us for reports. It started with the best of intentions – giving the business users information from our systems that they couldn’t get in any other way. I used to run a mainframe for a bank and did all of the nightly processing. Every night I would print off a four hundred page report that weighed in close to fifty pounds –at least that’s how I remember it – containing all of the checking account activity for our customers over the last twenty four hours. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually culling through it line by line every morning, looking for who knows what. I printed out that report dutifully none the less. I never did find out what they did with that report.

As we learned to pull information from these otherwise inaccessible sources, open systems really established themselves, and we would proceed to spend the next twenty years converting paper systems to digital systems. My reams of paper reports and order forms transitioned into electronic spread sheets and digital order forms. The Enterprise Data Warehouse became the penultimate repository of reports. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to implement these across the globe. Business trade rags told corporate executives how they would fundamentally change the way they ran their companies. Most companies implemented these solutions with the expectation that just having a data warehouse packed with data was enough. When reports failed to run or didn’t finish on time there was hell to pay from the executives. I dove in and worked with peers and counterparts to find and fix these problems. We made sure that our twenty-plus-thousand reports ran smoothly and on time. We didn’t have enough employees to actually read twenty thousand reports each day. Looking back, I don’t even remember who most of those reports were created for much less how any of them were used.

A couple, as in I can count on one hand, of truly progressive companies actually took advantage of the opportunities the Enterprise Data Warehouse presented and chose to find creative and unique ways to use this data. Bill (Schmarzo) has a great story from a time early in his career while at Proctor and Gamble. P&G went to Walmart and K-Mart and made available new types of data that they were collecting; data that they were willing to make available to both companies. One company chose to take as much of it as they could with a plan to make use of it. The other didn’t see any value in it. One is now one of the largest public retailer on the planet and the other isn’t.

All of which brings me to Frederick the Great and Napoleon. Now I love stories and this is a story about the need to use the tools at hand differently, and the dangers of resting on your laurels. Frederick was the King of Prussia and Commander of its armies during the Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763. Now at this time every country in Europe fought wars with the same technology; smooth bore musket, smooth bore cannon and horse flesh. No one had any technical advantage over anyone else. Generally speaking everyone fought wars in the same way, horse on the wings and infantry in the center. They all put their most senior unit on the right flank and second most on the left and they kept alternating until they met in the middle. Both side would then move forward in their lines and shoot it out and whichever side had more guys fall down lost.

Frederick fundamentally made two small changes to how his army fought. The first thing he did was to teach all of his units to march with the same length step roughly thirty inches. This allowed his troops to move more effectively around the battlefield without becoming disorganized. He was also the first commander to write manuals to teach his officers how to actually maneuver their troops. He could get the right troops to the right location at the right time where his opposing commanders couldn’t. He innovated in additional ways but I think that these two represent the biggest impact. Everything else is a consequence of these two changes.

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Let’s fast forward to 1804, when a young Corsican upstart, Napoleon, crowns himself Emperor of France and by 1806 the French and the Prussians are starting to get uppity with each other. The Prussians were so confident, the king’s personal body guard would go to the French embassy in Berlin to taunt the French by using the embassies stone steps to sharpen their sabers; hence the term saber rattling.

The problem was that this was no longer the French army of forty years ago. To be clear, military technology was basically unchanged from the Seven Years War. Everyone still fought with smoothbore muskets, smoothbore canon and horse flesh. Napoleon, however, had not been resting his laurels and he also introduced two small changes to warfare. First, he created a new formation called the battlefield column, everyone else still fought in lines, which put more weight of men across a smaller frontage. Second, he introduced the corps system, an organizational structure still in use by most major armies to this day. This created a unit that contained all three types of troops in one command structure; infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Prior to this these troops were silo’d by troop type. This also allowed Napoleon to move his army across great distances at a speed that no one had seen or dreamed possible.

The two countries finally came to blows in early October 1806 and on 14 October 1806, the two belligerents met at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. At Auerstedt a single French Corps under Marshal Davout, outnumbered and facing the main body of Prussian troops, destroyed them in about five hours and mortally wounding their Army commander the Duke of Brunswick. He was one of the last living and one the best generals to have served under Frederick.

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Napoleon was in Berlin thirteen days later and had knocked one of the great powers of the 18th century into submission in nineteen days.

Napoleon and Being a CTO
What these men taught me was that he who knew HOW to best use the available technology and was ORGANIZED to take advantage of it, won, and all other arguments are irrelevant. Now this just might have made me the worst Field CTO and Principal Engineer in the company. I no longer care about what any of our technology does; I care about what I can do with it. Today the cost of technology is no longer the barrier to entry it once was. Companies of all sizes can have at their disposal the tools and technology to make use of the data that they have within their organization. Frederick and Napoleon also knew that both the “how” and the organization structure needed to be applied to achieve their desired outcome. Something I never bothered with as I printed out reports each night. It is about the only thing that I focus my technology discussions on today.

Business leaders today need to change how they use the data and technology at their disposal, think more like Data Scientists and use both to drive business outcomes. Business today is in a most volatile period. The life expectancy of a firm within the fortune 500 is 15 years and falling. In the 1950’s that expectancy was 75 years. The fast are eating the slow every day. In fact, according to a study done by Constellation Research, 52% of companies that have been included in the Fortune 500 either no longer exist or have fallen out of the Fortune 500.

A customer recently asked me, “How do we find our Napoleon moment?”

The answer is that your business must build a business strategy that utilizes data. You must decide that you want to learn as fast as possible. When you tie your key business objectives to data and continue to learn from it you’ll create your own Napoleon moment. He who learns the fastest, wins, just go ask the Prussians.

How Frederick The Great And Napoleon Taught Me To Become A CTO
Bill Schmarzo

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More Stories By William Schmarzo

Bill Schmarzo, author of “Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business” and “Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science”, is responsible for setting strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings for Dell EMC’s Big Data Practice.

As a CTO within Dell EMC’s 2,000+ person consulting organization, he works with organizations to identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He’s written white papers, is an avid blogger and is a frequent speaker on the use of Big Data and data science to power an organization’s key business initiatives. He is a University of San Francisco School of Management (SOM) Executive Fellow where he teaches the “Big Data MBA” course. Bill also just completed a research paper on “Determining The Economic Value of Data”. Onalytica recently ranked Bill as #4 Big Data Influencer worldwide.

Bill has over three decades of experience in data warehousing, BI and analytics. Bill authored the Vision Workshop methodology that links an organization’s strategic business initiatives with their supporting data and analytic requirements. Bill serves on the City of San Jose’s Technology Innovation Board, and on the faculties of The Data Warehouse Institute and Strata.

Previously, Bill was vice president of Analytics at Yahoo where he was responsible for the development of Yahoo’s Advertiser and Website analytics products, including the delivery of “actionable insights” through a holistic user experience. Before that, Bill oversaw the Analytic Applications business unit at Business Objects, including the development, marketing and sales of their industry-defining analytic applications.

Bill holds a Masters Business Administration from University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, Computer Science and Business Administration from Coe College.

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