Charles D. Morgan

From a man who seemingly single-handedly claims the mantle of "he who brought you big data" comes a book that tells his life in a Tom Cruise action flick pace.

But first, read some of Charles D. Morgan's thoughts about how well companies are handling analytics.

For starters, take his approach to integrating big data systems into existing enterprise infrastructure:

"I’ve learned through hard experience that the best practice isn’t to 'integrate’. It’s to start over," said Morgan, who served as CEO and chairman of one of the largest data companies for four decades, Moorestown, N.J.-based Acxiom Corp. and now serves as CEO of PrivacyStar.

Just Imagine

To make his recommend more challenging, another of Morgan's best practices is to avoid a "big-bang cutover to the new system."

Run the new and the old system side by side, he said, transitioning to the new system component by component until the old system is turned off.

"I know this isn’t always possible, but it sure is easier and much less prone to failure," he said.

He knows what is and isn’t possible, and how to use imagination overcome inertia.

During his tenure at Acxiom, a company he took from 25 to 7,000 employees (and from the holder of a little data to one with 1,500 separate pieces of info on about 500 million people around the globe), the company faced a lag during the data integration process.

So in the days before clouds, his employees devised what was essentially a private cloud. They hooked up 20,000 PCs, each one managing its own little cog in the data integration process.

Big Data - Before it was a Thing

Another example also came from his days as leader of the data form Acxiom.

Back in the 1990s, the firm was handling big data without yet having the term to describe it, processing data for banks for nearly every credit card user and prospect in the US.

Acxiom couldn't create news tools quick enough to keep up with the new data flooding in, and the problems they created.

For instance, it invented a data creation tool called "AbiliTec" — an example of how legacy systems sometimes cannot replace legacy systems. AbiliTec needed to be integrated into thousands of existing processes.

"It was a massive task, and my senior management team balked," he remembered. “'Charles, it’s going to be hard and expensive,' they whined. ' It’s going to screw up everything.'"

It didn't end up screwing everything up, but it did take more than two years before the tool produced any benefit.

Why Bother?

Which leads us to out next question for Morgan: If it's such a challenge to create and replace analytics systems and to do so correctly, why not just outsource the efforts?

"While there are a lot of great resources available to companies today, I’ve always been leery of outsourcing the keys to the kingdom," he said.

Yet rewards can be had in outsourcing to free up your people to do what they do best — as long as you're not including core competencies and proprietary strengths when you do.

Returning to his days at Acxiom, whose strength is in large-scale data management, Morgan recalls a period during which "the banks pressured us to become a one-stop shop for all their direct-marketing needs.

"Next thing we knew, we were mired in printing and shipping — as though we didn’t have enough problems managing the data that helped create those direct-marketing pieces," he recalls.

It took some time for the company to come to its senses and abandon all those "trucks and sheds."

"Bottom line: Outsource the extras, not the essence," Morgan said.

What a Life

Morgan’s book, Matters of Life and Data, released in January 2015, delves into his career, which started at the beginning of the data age, as well as his career as a professional race car driver, into his current position as a privacy and data security advocate.

Harry Gambill, retired CEO of TransUnion, said the book "is like reading Atlas Shrugged, Peyton Place and the best of Car and Driver all rolled into one."

His latest venture, PrivacyStar, is a service that identifies who is calling and why, and provides for call complaint filing which reports to the Federal Trade Commission.

He serves on the board of directors of INUVO, a public company focused on simplifying performance-based Internet advertising. He also serves as a member and is the past chairman of the board of trustees of Hendrix College.