Facing the Challenges of Real-Time Analytics. Interview with David Flower
“We are now seeing a number of our customers in financial services adopt a real-time approach to detecting and preventing fraudulent credit card transactions. With the use of ML integrating into the real-time rules engine within VoltDB, the transaction can be monitored, validated and either rejected or passed, before being completed, saving time and money for both the financial institution and the consumer.”–David Flower.
I have interviewed David Flower, President and Chief Executive Officer of VoltDB. We discussed his strategy for VoltDB, and the main data challenges enterprises face nowadays in performing real-time analytics.
Q1. You joined VoltDB as Chief Revenue Officer last year, and since March 29, 2017 you have been appointment to the role of President and Chief Executive Officer. What is your strategy for VoltDB?
David Flower : When I joined the company we took a step back to really understand our business and move from the start-up phase to growth stage. As with all organizations, you learn from what you have achieved but you also have to be honest with what your value is. We looked at 3 fundamentals;
1) Success in our customer base – industries, use cases, geography
2) Market dynamics
3) Core product DNA – the underlying strengths of our solution, over and above any other product in the market
The outcome of this exercise is we have moved from a generic veneer market approach to a highly focused specialized business with deep domain knowledge. As with any business, you are looking for repeatability into clearly defined and understood market sectors, and this is the natural next phase in our business evolution and I am very pleased to report that we have made significant progress to date.
With the growing demand for massive data management aligned with real-time decision making, VoltDB is well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.
Q2. VoltDB is not the only in-memory transactional database in the market. What is your unique selling proposition and how do you position VoltDB in the broader database market?
David Flower : The advantage of operating in the database market is the pure size and scale that it offers – and that is also the disadvantage. You have to be able to express your target value. Through our customers and the strategic review we undertook, we are now able to express more clearly what value we have and where, and equally importantly, where we do not play! Our USP’s revolve around our product principles – vast data ingestion scale, full ACID consistency and the ability to undertake real-time decisioning, all supported through a distributed low-latency in-memory architecture, and we embrace traditional RDBMS through SQL to leverage existing market skills, and reduce the associated cost of change. We offer a proven enterprise grade database that is used by some of the World’s leading and demanding brands, a fact that many other companies in our market are unable to do.
Q3. VoltDB was founded in 2009 by a team of database experts, including Dr. Michael Stonebraker (winner of the ACM Turing award). How much of Stonebraker`s ideas are still in VoltDB and what is new?
David Flower : We are both proud and privileged to be associated with Dr. Stonebraker, and his stature in the database arena is without comparison. Mike’s original ideas underpin our product philosophy and our future direction, and he continues to be actively engaged in the business and will always remain a fundamental part of our heritage. Through our internal engineering experts and in conjunction with our customers, we have developed on Mike’s original ideas to bring additional features, functions and enterprise grade capabilities into the product.
Q4. Stonebraker co-founded several other database companies. Before VoltDB, in 2005, Stonebraker co-founded Vertica to commercialize the technology behind C-Store; and after VoltDB, in 2013 he co-founded another company called Tamr. Is there any relationship between Vertica, VoltDB and Tamr (if any)?
David Flower : Mike’s legacy in this field speaks for itself. VoltDB evolved from the Vertica business and while we have no formal ties, we are actively engaged with numerous leading technology companies that enable clients to gain deeper value through close integrations.
Q5. VoltDB is a ground-up redesign of a relational database. What are the main data challenges enterprises face nowadays in performing real-time analytics?
The demand for ‘real-time’ is one of the most challenging areas for many businesses today. Firstly, the definition of real-time is changing. Batch or micro-batch processing is now unacceptable – whether that be for the consumer, customer and in some cases for compliance. Secondly, analytics is also moving from the back-end (post event) to the front-end (in-event or in-process).
The drivers around AI and ML are forcing this even more. The market requirement is now for real-time analytics but what is the value of this if you cannot act on it? This is where VoltDB excels – we enable the action on this data, in process, and when the data/time is most valuable. VoltDB is able to truly deliver on the value of translytics – the combination of real-time transactions with real-time analytics, and we can demonstrate this through real use cases.
Q6. VoltDB is specialized in high-velocity applications that thrive on fast streaming data. What is fast streaming data and why does it matter?
David Flower : As previously mentioned, VoltDB is designed for high volume data streams that require a decision to be taken ‘in-stream’ and is always consistent. Fast streaming data is best defined through real applications – policy management, authentication, billing as examples in telecoms; fraud detection & prevention in finance (such as massive credit card processing streams); customer engagement offerings in media & gaming; and areas such as smart-metering in IoT.
The underlying principle being that the window of opportunity (action) is available in the fast data stream process, and once passed the opportunity value diminishes.
Q7. You have recently announced an “Enterprise Lab Program” to accelerate the impact of real-time data analysis at large enterprise organizations. What is it and how does it work?
David Flower : The objective of the Enterprise Lab Program is to enable organizations to access, test and evaluate our enterprise solution within their own environment and determine the applicability of VoltDB for either the modernization of existing applications or for the support of next gen applications. This comes without restriction, and provides full access to our support, technical consultants and engineering resources. We realize that selecting a database is a major decision and we want to ensure the potential of our product can be fully understood, tested and piloted with access to all our core assets.
Q8. You have been quoted saying that “Fraud is a huge problem on the Internet, and is one of the most scalable cybercrimes on the web today. The only way to negate the impact of fraud is to catch it before a transaction is processed”. Is this really always possible? How do you detect a fraud in practice?
David Flower : With the phenomenal growth in e-commerce and the changing consumer demands for web-driven retailing, the concerns relating to fraud (credit card) are only going to increase. The internet creates the challenge of handling massive transaction volumes, and cyber criminals are becoming ever more sophisticated in their approach.
Traditional fraud models simply were not designed to manage at this scale, and in many cases post-transaction capture is too late – the damage has been done. We are now seeing a number of our customers in financial services adopt a real-time approach to detecting and preventing fraudulent credit card transactions. With the use of ML integrating into the real-time rules engine within VoltDB, the transaction can be monitored, validated and either rejected or passed, before being completed, saving time and money for both the financial institution and the consumer. By using the combination of post- analytics and ML, the most relevant, current and effective set of rules can be applied as the transaction is processed.
Q9. Another area where VoltDB is used is in mobile gaming. What are the main data challenges with mobile gaming platforms?
David Flower : Mobile gaming is a perfect example of fast data – large data streams that require real-time decisioning for in-game customer engagement. The consumer wants the personal interaction but with relevant offers at that precise moment in the game. VoltDB is able to support this demand, at scale and based on the individual’s profile and stage in the application/game. The concept of the right offer, to the right person, at the right time ensures that the user remains loyal to the game and the game developer (company) can maximize its revenue potential through high customer satisfaction levels.
Q11. Can you explain the purpose of VoltDB`s recently announced co-operations with Huawei and Nokia?
David Flower : We have developed close OEM relationships with a number of major global clients, of which Huawei and Nokia are representative. Our aim is to be more than a traditional vendor, and bring additional value to the table, be it in the form of technical innovation, through advanced application development, or in terms of our ‘total company’ support philosophy. We also recognize that infrastructure decisions are critical by nature, and are not made for the short-term.
VoltDB has been rigorously tested by both Huawei and Nokia and was selected for several reasons against some of the world’s leading technologies, but fundamentally because our product works – and works in the most demanding environments providing the capability for existing and next-generation enterprise grade applications.
David Flower brings more than 28 years of experience within the IT industry to the role of President and CEO of VoltDB. David has a track record of building significant shareholder value across multiple software sectors on a global scale through the development and execution of focused strategic plans, organizational development and product leadership.
Before joining VoltDB, David served as Vice President EMEA for Carbon Black Inc. Prior to Carbon Black he held senior executive positions in numerous successful software companies including Senior Vice President International for Everbridge (NASDAQ: EVBG); Vice President EMEA (APM division) for Compuware (formerly NASDAQ: CPWR); and UK Managing Director and Vice President EMEA for Gomez. David also held the position of Group Vice President International for MapInfo Corp. He began his career in senior management roles at Lotus Development Corp and Xerox Corp – Software Division.
David attended Oxford Brookes University where he studied Finance. David retains strong links within the venture capital investment community.
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