DETROIT — The convergence of Big Data, cheap storage and computing power is letting people do increasingly extraordinary things with IT, Oracle Corp. chairman Jeff Henley told an audience of about 200 at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon Wednesday.

Henley, a 40 year veteran of Silicon Valley — the last 21 at Oracle — said there’s always change in IT, “but it seems like every decade or so there’s big change, an inflection point.”

Earlier big changes included client-server computing and the rise of the Internet, he said. Now, it’s “the convergence of emerging technologies like big data and business analytics, and new cloud and social media computing platforms that are affecting how individuals work and how companies compete.”

Henley lauded several Oracle clients for inventive uses of IT.

For example, people thought NBC Sports was crazy to spend $1.2 billion on the rights to last summer’s London Olympics. But Henley said NBC “had a clear strategy that involved the use of social networking like Facebook and Twitter to make the sports viewing experience more interactive and engaging” in an effort to close the gap with sports TV leader ESPN. The result? NBC wound up making money on the Olympics and connecting strongly with younger viewers that traditionally didn’t watch the Olympics, which should generate additional future revenue.

Elsewhere, Henley said, Minnesota-based Land O Lakes is “capturing big results from big data and using it to solve the global food shortage,” including helping farmers improve crop yields. And the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has announced a $100 million analytics project “to use big data to unlock the secrets of human health and disease.”

He also lauded General Motors Co. for insourcing its IT work, building new data centers, and using OnStar to differentiate itself from its competition.

Henley advised businesses to consolidate and simplify IT hardware and services as much as possible, globalize business processes, deploy standard, out-of-the-box products wherever possible, and “move fast and stay the course.”

Henley agreed with an assertion in an audience question that the hallmark of any good technology is that it destroys jobs. He said business reporters are foolish to concentrate on layoffs, “but you really need to focus on the overall rate of growth in the economy and the overall employment rate. Obviously, for the people affected by layoffs, it’s not good. But you have to concentrate on retraining these people.”

He said he’s hopeful about initiativees to boost education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, “though we are starting in a difficult position.”


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