The value of real-time data

NY Half

Heather and Emma after completing the New York City Half Marathon

I find it funny that given the title of this blog it’s actually been three weeks since I was first inspired to write it.

My friend, Heather, has been training all year to compete in the New York City Marathon.   I know my limits and know, after finishing three half marathons earlier this year, that I couldn’t complete a full marathon.  But, I was excited for Heather and purchased a service that was to provide me with real time SMS updates of her progress along the course.   After watching the elite athletes finish the race, at home on TV, without a single text re Heather’s progress, I was getting concerned that perhaps my SMS service wasn’t working so I purchased the iPad athlete tracking app and it too had no trace of Heather.  After checking the marathon website I realized that Heather didn’t actually start the race until 10:40am and it was then that I realized that the first update I would receive would be when she passed the 5k marker and that subsequent updates would probably be in 5k increments.

After gorging on a hearty breakfast we set out for a pre-arranged meeting point just before mile 23 – this is where many athletes were hitting the wall.   We got to our vantage point an hour early to make sure that we didn’t miss the opportunity to heckle Heather.  Many athletes were wearing their names across their chests so that we could cheer them on by name and I was amazed by how many runners from overseas were competing and wearing their nationality with pride.   I couldn’t help but shout out “Come on France, you can’t surrender now!” every time a French runner limped by, and of course I saved my loudest cheers for the Irish athletes.   I’d guessed that Heather would probably average about a 10 minute pace and some of the early text updates indicated that was fairly accurate – although one update suggested that she’d finish it in over 300 hours.  I’d a rough idea of when to expect to see her, but I was keeping my eyes peeled.

After over two hours in the glorious sunshine I got a text to tell me that she’d passed the 21.7 mile (35k) marker an hour before that so by the time I received that text she was close to the finish line.  I was devastated that after promising to give her the encouragement that she needed that I’d let her down, or rather the “real-time” data had let me down.

Despite rumors to the contrary I don’t think about Actian 24×7 but this experience did drive home to me the value and importance of real-time data.  I was able to draw many parallels between my marathon experience with what I see in business:

  1. Throwing money at a problem isn’t always the answer.
  2. Make sure you understand what the provider means by ‘real time”.
  3. Real time data is only useful if you receive it in real time.
  4. No answer is sometimes better than the wrong answer.
  5. Having a rough idea of what the right answer should be helps you avoid major errors.

PrologueEpilogue: I guess I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with the services I purchased – I got a full refund without even lodging a complaint with their customer service department.

About Emma McGrattan

As SVP of Engineering at Actian, Emma leads development for the Actian Vector team, including the Ingres and X100 components, and the Actian Matrix Planner team. A leading authority in DBMS technologies, Emma is celebrating 20 years in Ingres and Actian Engineering.

View all posts by Emma McGrattan →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>