A cloud computing/trusted IT firm that is applying Big Data to see the formerly un-seeable -- addressing problems of sustainability and other problems previously thought to be intractable.


Kathrin Winkler
Chief Sustainability Officer
EMC Corporation – Global Technology Firm



  • Big Data is such an exciting field.  It’s burst on the scene in a big way but’s only the beginning of what’s going to happen.
  • The traditional definition of Big Data is ‘so much data that you have to manage it differently than we always did before', that breaks traditional IT infrastructure.  But Big Data is really about not just volume of data, but data from disparate sources, in different formats; it’s not databases, but its tweets and video and sound …[Sue: Not orderly data] [Kathrin:] Not orderly at all!  There’s orderly data in there, but to map that orderly data with unstructured, disorderly data is what Big Data is about.  And to do it in (nearly) real-time, and with the experts in the domain, as well as technologists.
  • Big Data is enabling us to look at problems that we thought were intractable --- just too big, too hard to solve, [in fields such as] genome analysis, epidemiology, climate science, oceans….
  • For example, an innovative marine observation system uses data from satellites, data from buoys, data from underwater autonomous vehicles, and data from animal tags.  It’s helping map the ocean floor, understand salinity (which is changing as the ocean chemistry changes), understand carbon uptake….it’s big problems that are multi-faceted and multi-dimensional.  The way Big Data does this is it surfaces patterns and correlations……We may not always understand the causality…. but to step back to look at how the entire system operates and how the data correlates, that can surface new information…
  • [Sue:]  New fields of science typically begin empirically, so this is creating an empirical observation infrastructure for enormous things that were kind of un-seeable before. [Kathrin:] That’s beautifully put.


Protecting Big Data...

  • On the one hand, much of the data is about aggregating information about individuals, and so of course there’s a fear of relinquishing information about yourself… both technological and emotional fears.
  • Smart Grid is an incredible portfolio of Big Data…. If we aggregate the data of all the individuals together you can see  where and when energy is being consumed, what types of events cause people and companies to change their behavior… There are huge trends to be understood by pulling this all together… There are also benefits for the individual…
  • But what I don’t want is that some stranger can go online and see that my energy is flattened out for the day because I’m probably out of town…. So protecting data is also about protecting physical security.
  • We have the technology.  We also need the right [company and government] policies in place to ensure there is accountability, and proper authority.


Bringing Data Domains together...

  • Big Data makes me feel like we’re so close … to the value we can bring to the world at large.  It got us out of thinking about the data center and into [thinking about] the world.
  • As the chief sustainability officer it has me really excited, because its bringing sustainability in terms of long-term thinking about the future – about society, the planet and the company -- together into the strategy… Employees get as excited as I do…. It creates more of a sense of purpose.
  • People, especially outside of technology, ask  me “What is Big Data?”   I tell them it is about pulling data from multiple sources and stepping back to see the patterns … and their eyes light up….
  • It’s bringing together people from multiple disciplines… It's bringing the technologists together with medical practitioners and climate scientists, and epidemiologists, and marine biologists.  I’m a firm believer than innovation happens at the intersection of different domains, when you bring different experiences, different frames of seeing the world, together – sparks happen!


The Science and Art of Big Data...

  • Data is growing at 60% per anum, and it’s changing format and it’s moving around quickly, and the demand for real-time data is increasing very rapidly, so there are some technological challenges… Where we’re going to see a lot of development is in the tools for more rapidly surfacing this new knowledge and enabling the collaboration between the players.
  • Sometimes the greatest revelation from Big Data comes from what’s considered ‘the noise’…  In one example… researchers were able to do analytics on the entire [eco-cardiogram] readout, and be able to recognize several anomalies that would foretell a 2-3x increase in the probability of a second heart attack… so it’s the data that might otherwise be discarded.   [We] don’t want to get rid of data too quickly, we may be able to solve a global problem – [Sue:] there may be gold in that pile of data!
  • [Sue:] Reminds me of art… I like to say true art is re-entrant…  With true art, every time you meet it, it may have something new to say to you, because it is contextual – what is it you’re looking for?  What state are you in?  what does it have to give you now?… [Kathrin:] It’s why we listen to the same symphony over and over…. Big Data is integrating both hemispheres of the mind – bringing the right brain and left brain people together to solve problems.


See Kathrin’s posts at


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Check out Joel Makower's Interview with Kathrin, in GreenBiz' "Studio C" series ....




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