Consider creating a startup within your company to tackle big data

Consider creating a startup within your company to tackle big data

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Create a startup enviornment to tackle big data

If you want to see quick results from big data, consider ripping out some cubicles and creating a startup within your company. We decided to do just that at Jet Propulsion Laboratory last summer, and we’re thrilled with the results.

Here’s how we did it:   

After identifying several end-user problems that we wanted to solve internally with big data, we had a choice: Put the projects in the operations pipeline or tackle them on the side with a startup. Since we didn’t know for certain whether the results of our data mining would be valuable, we decided to create our own internal startup. We figured that would keep policies and procedures from slowing us down.

Saying goodbye to cubes

After deciding to go into startup mode, we identified some of the best students in Analytics and actually created a startup environment in our existing offices. We ripped out existing cubicles so the students wouldn’t be confined to their own work. We had the team face each other instead of the walls, allowing them to learn from one another.

By doing away with the traditional office environment, we were encouraging collaboration and making it easier for our team to rapidly prototype from the get-go. It wasn’t long before this startup space drew attention from other JPL employees, many of whom gravitated toward the space because it was such a collaborative environment.

Keeping naysayers at bay

To make sure our startup didn’t get bogged down by policies and procedures, I became a shark of sorts, circling the desks and eating up all the reasons why it couldn’t be done. I wanted the team focused on prototypes, not protocols.

Since prototyping was so important for our project, we did what all tech startups do – we used the cloud. By turning to the cloud, we didn’t have to impact our existing environment. Nor did we have to worry about tying up JPL’s IT people who already had their plates full with other operational issues.

So was our startup successful? Absolutely. By the end of the summer, our startup gleaned insights in Human Resources, IT security, engineering, and even the IT help desk.   

A nice side effect of our startup was the opportunity to bring in technology tools to address the varieties of data we were combining, including some new tools that some of us hadn’t heard of before. The cloud came into play again here because these cloud tools didn’t need to be installed across the enterprise.

It’s amazing what can happen when you bring a startup mentality to the enterprise.

Tom Soderstrom is Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Office of the CIO at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Los Angeles, CA, and a member of the Enterprisers Editorial Board. JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system and conducts major programs in space-based Earth sciences, including the Mars Science Laboratory mission with the Curiosity rover. JPL currently has several dozen aircraft and instruments conducting active missions in and outside of our solar system.

Tom serves as the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, in the Office of the CIO at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where his mission is to identify and infuse new IT technologies into JPL's environment.He has led remote teams and large scale IT best practices development and change efforts in both small startup and large commercial companies, in international venues, and in the US Gove

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