DUBLIN: The chief technology officer of the Coca-Cola Company has advised that organisations wanting to take advantage of the latest cloud and big data advances should turn to startups rather than rely on the old-guard IT names.
Coca-Cola CTO Alan Boehme told delegates at the Web Summit in Dublin that his firm started a journey four years ago to transform its IT through a shift to the cloud.
"Our data centres have always had lots of servers, lots of cost, using a lot of energy, and this is not going to get us to the future. We have a goal within the next three to five years to have about 75 to 80 percent of Coke's computing environment in the cloud," he said.
"We've moved from doing everything internally to cloud-first. I don't mean in a private cloud; I mean in a public cloud."
Coke is currently using cloud services from multiple providers, including Google, Amazon, CenturyLink and Microsoft Azure. "There is not one cloud that fits all, there are clouds that fit specific workloads," he explained.
But while the bigger providers are proving adequate for the commoditised cloud services Coke is making use of, there are still aspects lacking and Boehme does not believe it is the larger firms that will help.
He noted that Coke is still trying to solve the problem of moving data between the clouds of different vendors, citing new technology such as containerisation from startup Docker that will make this easier.
"We really have to partner with the startups to get to the next generation. We're looking to partner with people around the world who understand the cloud much better than we do," he said.
"There's a lot of things we have to do to get there, and the only way we can get there is by partnering with startups. Most of the major corporations today that we've historically dealt with don't have the technologies, the capabilities to enable us to get to where we need to go as fast as possible."
Boehme argued that major organisations like Coca-Cola cannot compete with firms like Google, Facebook and Pinterest, which are employing data scientists to create their own algorithms, when it comes technology prowess.
"When we started down the path we realised we had to partner with entrepreneurs, we had to partner with startups to get to where we're going. I'm looking for people to come forward with ideas about how a legacy corporation like Coca-Cola can partner with you to drive things forward," he explained.
"The history of IT was very linear. We would always rely on Big Blue [IBM], HP, Dell, the major corporations and they could provide us with that vision for the future. We were getting this from the analysts - the Gartners, Forresters and others. Again we can't do that anymore - the world is changing too quickly. We have to be able to curve and swerve through point A to point C."
The shift to mobile and the growth of the Internet of Things and sensors is also putting extra pressure on Coke to overhaul its use of technology. "In a single factory, there are 13 trillion instructions that we have to deal with on an annual basis. And we have over 100 factories. We could never count all that information internally. Again we have to turn to the cloud," he said.
Boehme - clasping a bottle of Coke on stage, of course - noted that Coca-Cola has more than 700,000 employees using mobile devices for work, along with more than 250,000 trucks, that the firm needs to communicate with on a daily basis.
"All of this is mobile; all of this is changing the way the Coca-Cola Company and systems think about technology and think about the future. Not to mention all of our consumers," he added.
The multitude of devices, people and systems Coke deals with presents the firm with another new challenge: big data. "The company is new to big data. We've had a lot of big data over time, but now we have to deal with unstructured data. We don't have the resources internally, we don't have the knowledge internally to build, deploy and maintain the type of tech required to leverage this info. We're moving from the era of demographics to the era of behavioural demographics."
Boehme cited Coke's Freestyle machine as an example of why the firm needs to get better at big data. The machine can pour over 150 different drinks through cartridges, and can be accessed online 24/7 via a user interface.
"It can interact with you through QR codes or a phone app, which is the old way of doing things," he said.
"Now we're looking at things like face recognition, so the machine recognises you and you can have a relationship with the machine. All of this is data, all of this has to be analysed in real time, we need to know what you like and don't like, and it all has to go through the cloud.
"We can't do this with a traditional data centre. We don't have the data scientists, we have to partner with people."
Boehme cited the firm's 90 million Facebook fans - the largest in the world, according to the CTO - and 130 million My Coke awards subscribers as key motivators for these efforts.
"They're interacting with us through the mobile, through the cloud on a daily basis. We have to think differently. This old data centre just won't do it. So we started down the journey to get us to the cloud," he explained.
Coke has set up an accelerator programme to encourage startups to focus on solving the kinds of problems the organisation needs resolved. The firm has identified various trends that it wants to target, and offers guidance and support for startups in those areas on how to work with large corporations and teach the community how to pitch.
Coke is also going to create a mobile lab to develop mobile SDKs. "They'll be given out free to developers, letting them create their apps on top of the SDK based on the Coca-Cola Company's information to try to do something different," Boehme revealed.
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