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Data Is Power… Or Is It?

Dale Lutz
May 29, 20124 min
For Safe’s 10th Anniversary in 2003, our artist created us a Tesseract-inspired commemorative poster proclaiming that “Data Is Power”. But recently I’ve been thinking that perhaps we’ve had it slightly...

Data Is PowerFor Safe’s 10th Anniversary in 2003, our artist created us a Tesseract-inspired commemorative poster proclaiming that “Data Is Power”. But recently I’ve been thinking that perhaps we’ve had it slightly wrong all this time, and that true power may come from slightly more than just data after all…

As we’ve stated before, we treat FME’s performance very seriously at Safe. “If a new release is not faster than a previous release, we won’t ship it”. So when we heard rumours of a customer experiencing a slowdown in FME 2012 vs FME 2011, we began the investigation. The customer was very cooperative and supplied log files and transformer profiles, but it was clear that we were going to have to roll up our sleeves to get to the bottom of the issue. So the big ask – can we have a copy of the workspaces, and, gasp, the source data?

So imagine my surprise when the customer in question came back and said that actually there would be no problem to give us the source data. Indeed, they didn’t see much value in it particularly…

Typically that last ask is a deal breaker for many of our customers, because the source data is very core to their business: highly proprietary and the competitive advantage that they have over their rivals. So imagine my surprise when the customer in question came back and said that actually there would be no problem to give us the source data. Indeed, they didn’t see much value in it particularly – that data was easily available to all who asked. Instead, it was the FME Workspace, which expresses their rules governing the transformation of the input to the output, that they were a bit more concerned about. That was where they felt the real value was. So clearly, for this customer, the data alone was not the power. Instead, data combined with the transformation is the source of their power. It is the results of this potent cocktail which fuel their decision making, and not just the inputs to the transformation.

The Examples Are Everywhere

As Kevin and I were preparing for this Thursday’s webinar on creating 3D mashups by integrating CAD, GIS, and BIM, we were struck at how we see the above pattern repeating itself over and over in the examples and case studies we’re reviewing. Whether its our friends at Shell Canada, merging a variety of innocuous inputs to create stunning 3D PDFs, or the folks at UMass at Amherst who’ve created a 3D GIS dataset for space planning and facilities management out of 2D CAD floorplans and a space management database, or our partners at Sweco taking legacy drawings and measurements and creating a 3D model of a nuclear powerplant to aid decommissioning planning – the pattern is one of taking relatively bland data and fusing it together with just the right transformation, to magically create something vastly more useful for understanding and, ultimately, decision making.

So nearly 10 years ago we said “Data Is Power”…maybe for our upcoming 20th we’ll have to remake the poster and declare that “Transformation Is Power”.

Ulf as Thor

Swedish FME god and Thursday Webinar co-presenter Ulf Månsson says that when you have an FME hammer, every data transformation problem looks like a nail…

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