This content is part of the Essential Guide: Structuring a big data strategy
Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

Beyond the hype, CIOs can generate business value from big data tools

Phil Shelley, CTO at Sears Holding Corp. in Hoffman Estates, Ill., leads IT operations and is working toward making Sears a real-time digital enterprise. That work includes the migration of workloads off mainframes, implementing large-scale private open-source cloud computing, and using Hadoop for big data BI. Shelley is also CEO of Sears Holdings subsidiary MetaScale, an IT managed services company. Born from his team's own successes with Hadoopand other big data tools, MetaScale creates and operates Hadoop-based analytics solutions.

With these tools, it becomes technically feasible and cost-effective to put large data sets with a lot of history in one place.

Phil Shelley,
CTO, Sears Holding Corp

Here, Shelley, a featured speaker and advisory board member for the recent Fusion 2013 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis., talks to SearchCIO about the value of embracing big data tools.

Hi. This is Karen Goulart, features writer for I'm here live at the Fusion 2013 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis. Joining me today is Phil Shelley, CTO at Sears Holdings, as well as CEO of MetaScale.

You're participating in a keynote address, 'The CIO as Revenue Rainmaker: Adding Value Revenue to The Enterprise.' I imagine for you, this is going to include utilizing some big data tools. Is that true?

Phil Shelley: That's right. I'm going to be covering the use of Hadoop and other tools in the big data portfolio that we use.

Since the last Fusion symposium, you've become CEO of MetaScale, an IT managed services company, which, by the sound of it, is related to a lot of what you're doing as CTO in IT operations for Sears. Can you tell me how your work as CEO of MetaScale informs or melds with your work as CTO at Sears?

Shelley: MetaScale was born out of the requests we were getting for the work we've been doing at Sears. Sears is being recognized for the use of some of these tools on a large scale in a traditional enterprise, a non-primary Internet business. We were becoming recognized for the work we did. People were asking us for help and support, and help to get started quickly. We really didn't have a mechanism for doing that. We went ahead and formed another subsidiary of Sears, called MetaScale, that provides startup services and managed services in the big data tools space so that companies can enjoy the benefits that we've enjoyed without having to go through the painful and long learning curve that we went through.

Do you think that more CIOs are starting to truly understand the value of big data tools?

Shelley: Yes. You can see that today, actually, in the conference. You see a lot of people start to realize now the value of data, the importance of collecting and analyzing data to discover value that may have been hidden or trapped previously. There's a lot of people talking about that this year, and I think 2013 is going to be the year where people start to actually do things with big data that they may not have even thought about previously.

Can you elaborate on that a bit? How do you think they're going to make that approach and get at that value?

Shelley: I think it's by use case. In my mind, they shouldn't try to boil the ocean. It's a matter of finding use cases or pain points in a company; finding very rich data sources that people may not have retained in one place before, but now you can. With these tools, it becomes technically feasible and cost-effective to put large data sets with a lot of history in one place. Companies that may not have done that previously because of cost or performance issues with systems can now do it, and they are starting to realize that. They are going to start targeting those high-value data sources and exploring them.

More about adding value with big data tools

Metadata practices gaining momentum as companies tackle big data

Hadoop framework breathes new life into legacy tools

Data mining challenges on the horizon: Got big data? Now what?

What are some of the things that companies should be aware of, that might be roadblocks for them or things they need to think about before they start down this path?

Shelley: There is a lot of hype. We had a similar session today talking about the hype in big data. There's an awful lot of vendor traffic saying they have the best thing ever, of course, in the big data space. You have to be guarded against that. You also have to look at the skill sets that are required. It's not a trivial exercise to scale up a team internally to deploy, manage and use big data tools. The skill sets -- there's certainly a gap in the market. And there is a learning curve. People have to be cautious of the speed with which they implement. They have to realize they have to train and develop people, use new techniques and also not get locked in, in my mind, with a particular vendor solution that you may regret because of the rapid evolution in this space that's happening.

Do you have any tips on not getting locked in with a particular vendor?

Shelley: The good thing about these big data tools is that a lot of them are open source tools. In fact, most of the ones we use are open source tools. They are supported by a community, developed by a community, and they are certainly not locked into any certain particular vendor. I think it requires a little bit more in the way of internal skills to be able to use these open source tools, but I really believe the time for open source is here now, and we should focus on it.

How can a CIO demonstrate the added value of using big data tools?

Shelley: I think incrementally; not take a big gamble, not take a massive investment and risk. Find these high-value sources and business users that want to embrace a new way of thinking about data to generate a new product, a new service, or enhance an existing product or service. Pick one at a time. Pick early wins that are manageable and achievable in a period of time. I think taking too big a risk or too big a bang is unnecessary, and these tools are, as I say, mostly open source, so there's no need to take a big gamble and a big investment approach, like you may have historically done.

Great. Thank you so much for your time and for sitting down with us today. I hope you enjoy the rest of the symposium.

Shelley: I will. Thank you very much.

Thank you for watching. This is Karen Goulart, features writer for, coming to you live from the Fusion 2013 CEO-CIO conference in Madison, Wis. We've been talking with Phil Shelley, CTO at Sears Holding and CEO of MetaScale. For more coverage of Fusion, go to our website,

View All Videos