Data quality more important than fixating over big data, says Shell VP

Johan Krebbers, vice-president of architecture at Shell, says it is more important to get data quality right than to find a ‘big data silver bullet’

It is more important for companies to get data quality right than trying to find a "big data silver bullet", according to Johan Krebbers (pictured), vice-president of architecture at Shell.

“If you want a step-change in efficiency, you need to have better quality of data,” said Krebbers speaking at the SAS Premier Business Leadership Series event.

“Data is very much a business issue, you’ve got to make sure the business understands the importance of it and people take ownership.

“You have to make sure the IT story is also a business story.”

The company has more than 40Pbyte of data today but that will grow by several factors in the coming years.

“In our case, it could be anywhere that you collect data. We often find oil in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

Krebbers said the company was moving away from reporting on accidents and infrastructure failures to a predictive analytics approach. “Being able to predict and therefore prevent failure is crucial,” he said.

“But it’s only a success if you have good quality data. Garbage in is still garbage out.”

Shell undertakes both upstream and downstream production in locating and processing oil, so all data is important and relevant.

“Companies need to look at data management, get business information management in order.”

Krebbers said the best benefits of big data were realised by using a mixture of technologies.

A mixture of more expensive in-memory, for speed; SQL, for a more economical option; and Hadoop, as a means of storing data you don’t know what to do with.  

“We need a ‘horses for courses’ approach. Carefully consider what combination of technology to use – there is no one size fits all – it is not a silver bullet,” he said.

“Businesses need a holistic approach. They should consider the full business segment and choose the right solution,” he said.

Shell employs around 87,000 full-time employees and produces 3.3 million barrels of oil each day.

The company has a mixed client environment and uses portable computers, desktops and tablets, for both Shell and contractor staff. All use a variety of operating systems including Windows, Android and Apple iOS.

Krebbers said the company was moving away from having a fully controlled client end point, to an environment where it was doing much less. “From an application point of view we’re becoming more flexible.”

Shell currently has 15,000 staff and contractors have access to selected Shell applications using tablets and smartphones.

“Overall our focus has been making applications available for mobile devices and having a mobile-first strategy,” he said.

“To support all businesses we have a broad spectrum of applications and services.”

Shell has a mixture of on-premise and cloud services. "Our overall target is at SaaS, but we also do have IaaS (AWS) and PaaS (Salesforce.com and Microsoft Windows Azure)," said Krebbers.

Since 2008 most of the Infrastructure services are outsourced to three main parties.

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no, duh ! this is as old as the hills: "garbage in, garbage out". i guess i shouldn't have expected better insight - or words of wisdom - from a vice president of an oil company.

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True, data quality is absolutely essential if you expect to be able to do predictive analysis. 

But he is a VP of a company with 86,000 employees. Whenever I hear statements like these from a high-level executive, I wonder how in touch s/he is with the realities of the things they're talking about. 

I even hear the CEO and VP of my own organization make inaccurate statements regarding IT initiaves, and we certainly don't have anywhere near 86,000 employees.
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