The keyword is “actionable.” 

Perhaps the chief complaint businesses have about big data solutions, now that Hadoop is already 12 years old, is that applications are not doing their part to make all that data actionable — it doesn’t give people something to do with it.

That complaint was heard loud and clear last May, when Gartner analysts Merv Adrian and Nick Heudecker released a report on Hadoop adoption. In their survey, only 18 per cent of Gartner’s Research Circle members said that they would be investing in Hadoop over the next two years.

Two years ago, that might have been good news for Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, the leaders in conventional relational databases. 

But now that they’ve gone “all-in,” the market may be turning south, and Microsoft finds itself saving what it might have earlier tried fervently to sink.


Yesterday, Microsoft demonstrated something it calls GigJam (let’s hope the name doesn’t stick around in the final release) to a packed audience of company partners at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando. 

GigJam demo

It’s a service that associates data from multiple sources on-demand, using some of the analytics technology it had developed for Power BI to make everyday data queriable by voice and accessible through touch.

Like Power BI, Microsoft will be making GigJam available online in a preview edition in coming weeks. 

Microsoft's Julia WhiteAs General Manager Julia White demonstrated, it presents snippets of data as forms that she called “mini-apps” — somewhat evolved from the default forms that used to appear in Microsoft Access. 

It uses Cortana voice access to build queries that extract data from the multitude of sources to which the customer is linked.

The user can link the data extracted by multiple queries by using a pen to circle the information that needs to be linked, and touching the option that best suits the relationship the user has in mind.

Although White did not say so explicitly, if GigJam is using the same data connection engine as Power BI, we can assume it is doing live integration of data from public sources, private data warehouses, big data stores and even locally stored databases.

White then simulated a person-to-person business transaction between herself, using a Surface tablet, and an associate using an iPhone, with data links supplied by Informatica.

They excluded confidential data from the transaction by using the pen to cross it out. It took a few minutes for this preview edition to get with the program, but it showed how GigJam could serve in the future as a kind of whiteboard for remotely connected associates.

The Heart of the Matter

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

GigJam appears to be the lynchpin of Microsoft’s new Cortana Analytics Suite, due for release this fall — a huge gamble for the company, branding an analytics feature with a core element of Windows 10.

“With Cortana Analytics, we are taking years of research and innovation – spanning technology and infrastructure for advanced analytics,” wrote Corporate Vice President Takeshi Numoto, in a company blog post Monday, “including capabilities like machine learning, big data storage and processing in the cloud as well as perceptual intelligence such as vision, face and speech recognition, with the goal of helping enterprise customers make better, faster decisions to accelerate their speed of business.”

“That gives you a glimpse of what is possible when we break down the barriers between applications, devices, and people,” said CEO Satya Nadella.

“What you saw was not some fancy screen sharing. It was, effectively, creation of an application for a specific task that spanned many apps, many devices, and many people on the fly, and distributing that app to all of those devices.”

A Bundle or a Platform?

Last week, Microsoft announced extensions to its Power BI platform, including Azure HDInsight (Microsoft’s cloud-based Hadoop) and the Azure Data Catalog. These extensions should further address customers’ needs for visualization and insight, although for now they’re somewhat general-purpose, avoiding leveraging advanced technologies like Azure Machine Learning platform.

On the one hand, it would appear Microsoft’s hope is to rack up the analytics market so that machine learning, visualization, analytics and live query capacity all come from Microsoft. 

On the other, this is the Partner conference, where no one in the audience wants to see that kind of a setup ever again.

Bundling everything together has been Microsoft’s typical way to court a large, lucrative market. For analytics, its next trick will be to produce that bundle, and yet open it up for consulting partners and developers to recommend, at the same time.

To that end, Microsoft has shared the following partial list of partners promising integrations with these new services:  Salesforce, Marketo, Adobe Analytics, comScore, Azure Mobile Engagement, Sage, SpaceCurve, tyGraph, CircuitID, Sumo Logic, SQL Sentry, Zuora, Planview, Insightly and Troux.

That list sounds more like it belongs to a platform than a bundle. But only a platform can truly be leveraged by any or all of this group. And that can only happen if GigJam — or whatever it’s called — truly makes data actionable.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  Title image by Jonathan Kos-Read.