Pivotal People—Meet Jeff Kelly, Former Wikibon Big Data Analyst

December 22, 2015 Adam Bloom

sfeatured-jkellyThis month, Pivotal is welcoming Jeff Kelly, a former Wikibon big data analyst, to our big data team. We had the opportunity to sit down for a Q&A session to pick his brain and hear about his focus for the coming year. Jeff has spent the majority of the past 8 years covering the business intelligence, analytics, and big data space, consulting with a myriad of vendors and customers on their strategies and practices. He is considered a world-class expert in the domain.

In his work here, Jeff will be spending his days doing research, listening to customers, writing, and speaking about the big data space. His work will ultimately capture a pulse on where big data is headed, how companies are getting results, and what companies can do to improve their results.

As someone who knows that data is impacting every industry, we are excited to have someone with Jeff’s background, knowledge, and foresight join the team.

Would you tell us about your background and how you got into software?

Well, I grew up just outside of Boston. In high school, I was a good all-around student, but I really loved history and literature. I also loved golf and was captain of the team. Unlike a fair number of the technology leaders here at Pivotal, I’m not one who can say, “I learned to program software when I was six years old.” Journalism was my first step on the journey. I went to Providence College for liberal arts, ultimately graduating with a degree in American Studies. Journalism was really satisfying—I realized that I both liked and was good at doing research and telling stories to explain interesting but sometimes complex topics. It was really cool see the light bulb go off in other people’s heads or even collaborate on ideas after that.

What has your career been about so far and what led you to Pivotal?

The path so far has been from tech journalist to software industry analyst, and Pivotal is a new chapter.

To look back a bit, the first few post-college years were about discovery. Like most people, I was figuring it all out. After freelancing for some local newspapers in the Boston area, I joined TechTarget Media, covering several areas in my 7 year tenure. Early on, I covered networking and mobile computing. It was really fun—I talked to a lot of smart people, learned something new every day, and really got into communicating complex topics. Eventually, I covered CIO and SMB areas. Then, I wrote about analytics, business intelligence, and data for three years. That is where I started covering Business Objects, Cognos, Teradata, Oracle, IBM, and EMC (now Pivotal) Greenplum. I also got a masters in journalism from Northeastern University during that time.

Through a connection, I was introduced to Wikibon. The team was covering storage but wanted to start a big data practice. It was a really innovative business and was started by some really smart IDC folks. They gave me an opportunity, and I began to transition from journalist to analyst. I found out that I knew more about the markets than I gave myself credit for. While there, I led the first big data market forecast, beating IDC to market by two months. That was a great milestone. As well, I met a ton of smart people, did market research, spoke at events, and consulted with clients on the user and vendor side. Pivotal was one of my clients.

So, when I got a call from one of my Pivotal contacts while I was actively thinking about the next phase in my career, I got excited. One of the things that stood out for me was Pivotal’s vision. In many ways, it aligned really well with my research thesis at Wikibon, which was that Big Data, cloud and application development were intersecting to create enormous value for those companies and organizations that take advantage. During the interview process, I really saw an outstanding strategy, culture, team, and product. It was a great fit. So when Pivotal made an offer, I jumped at it.

After spending time on the whole market and across vendors, why come here?

As an industry analyst, you are spread really thin.

We each have dozens of clients on the vendor and user side. With each of them, you can only go so deep. Even though I hear about the business drivers, use cases, and solutions, it stops at a certain level. So, I made a decision to move to a vendor, get more invested in a product line, and get closer to the customer to better understand their success, then teach others about how to do it.

With Pivotal, there were a few other things I really thought were fantastic and drew me here. When they announced the open source data platform earlier this year, I knew that was a great move. Companies are so fed up with vendor lock-in for databases and data warehouses. Also, you would be surprised how many companies, large and small, would pitch the analysts with great stories and talk a great game. But when it came to actual customers, they were hard pressed to let us talk to customers and prove what they were doing. For an analyst, this is a big, red flag. Pivotal wasn’t like that. We have a stable of customers who are really doing amazing things.

What is your role in the organization?

First and foremost, I am going to evangelize big data.

So, I’ll be writing, speaking, and advocating the results that companies get from big data. With my analyst background, I am going to broaden my focus beyond Pivotal—anywhere someone is getting results with big data, it is good for the whole market and good for us. I am here to help educate the market on where things are going—the art of the possible, the trends, the disruption of industries, the implementation success factors, the cultures, the impacts on society, and best practices. We are going to put together some pretty exciting industry reports, too.

I am also going to work closely with our analyst relations team, working on the strategy, communicating our vision and differentiation, and ensuring we have solid relationship with industry analysts. Three, I am going to work with the product marketing team—sharing insights from the field, engaging with sales teams, and talking to a lot of end users, data scientists, CIOs, and business leaders.

Of course, I’ll be on Twitter too @jeffreykelly.

What topics will you be focused on researching and sharing with the world?

Beyond the mechanics of big data, there are some exciting topics to dive into.

Culture and change management are very central to big data success. You can have lots of software and tons of nodes, but you can still get very few results. The people part is really important. There are also some big challenges in the traditional business intelligence and data warehouse market. Until recently, most of these tools were rigid and inflexible. It limits the types of analytics you can do as well as the speed and scale at which you can do them. This has infected a whole generation of knowledge workers who have been told, “No, we can’t do that.” We need to help people overcome this mindset—to understand what really is possible.

Predictive analytics is such a game-changer, even more with real-time. For example, the concept of preventative maintenance is extremely rich. To detect patterns ahead of time and take action for some financial impact, we couldn’t do this before now. This applies to all industries—energy, logistics, cars, manufacturing, healthcare, farming, etc.

Data touches everything.

OK, now for the last question. When you aren’t working, what do you do for fun?

Well, I have been married for 10 years. I have a 7 year old son and a 18 month old daughter. Like most, family keeps me pretty busy. When I have free time, I like to run—it lets me decompress. As well, I still read plenty of nonfiction and history, and I can’t help being a news junkie.

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