McIntire Hosts Third Annual Analytics Colloquium

Two dozen industry experts offer nuanced analyses of the changes, challenges, and opportunities in business analytics today.

Ahmed Abbasi

Ahmed Abbasi

Offering expert insight into big data and customer analytics, as well as invaluable real-world tips and advice on careers in business analytics, some 24 industry veterans helped make McIntire’s 2016 Analytics Colloquium, held Sept. 2, 2016, in the McIntire School’s Rouss & Robertson Halls, a high-value, real world-relevant educational event. The one-day colloquium was sponsored by the School’s Center for Business Analytics (CBA).

“We are extremely grateful to our outstanding panelists and speakers for so generously sharing their time and expertise with McIntire students,” says McIntire IT Professor and CBA Director Ahmed Abbasi, who served as the event’s organizer. “Their willingness to engage with the School is critical to our ongoing ability to provide our students with a cutting-edge business education and unparalleled career preparation.”

Big Time
The colloquium began with a panel discussion of current big data usage trends, as well as the challenges associated with the field’s increasingly rapid advancement. Panelists included Joanna Bergeron (A&S ’98, M.S. in MIT ’03), Principal, CapTech; Todd Kennedy (Engineering ’96), Senior Vice President, Capital One; Cameron Meierhoefer, COO, comScore; and Dave Pierce, Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting.

“In the last two years, there’s been more data created than in all the rest of human history combined,” Kennedy told listeners, noting Capital One’s early—and incredibly successful—recognition of the power of “big data” and its skillful analysis. “That opens up some amazing opportunities for new solutions, but it also raises new questions and challenges.” Indeed, Bergeron said, emphasizing the tremendous demand for smart, skilled analysts, “bad data usage is responsible for 40 percent of business initiative failures.”

Along these lines, Meierhoefer underscored the potential for better insights when massive scale is coupled with smarter methodology, and Pierce pointed out that data is no longer “the realm of the IT guys”; rather, it has rapidly become a key determinant of organizational success. “Big data is now front and center in virtually all businesses,” Pierce told the audience. “But in order to really make it work, it must be in absolute alignment with a business’s goals, and supported by its organizational structure.”

Know Your Customer
Colloquium participants were next treated to a panel discussion on customer analytics, featuring Jeff Campbell (Engineering ’01), Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies; Sameer Gupta, Partner, EY; Martin Stolfa, Vice President, Commercial Analytics, Hilton Worldwide; and Cliff Young, President, US Ipsos Public Affairs.

Campbell kicked off the discussion, emphasizing the importance of testing new data-driven ideas and cautioning against the temptation to confuse correlation with causation. “Fifty percent of the time, new ideas don’t work as intended,” he said, noting APT’s expertise in helping businesses successfully execute evidence-based decision making.

Gupta and Stolfa next described the critical importance—and considerable challenges—of learning from customer data, and then appropriately leveraging that knowledge to drive value, growth, and customer loyalty. “We’re working incredibly hard to make sure we’re using data in a way that not only helps us better understand and serve our customers, but that also helps us grow our customer base and our revenues,” Stolfa said, noting the ongoing and fascinating nature of the opportunities faced by global hospitality leader Hilton.

Young went on to discuss the tremendous complexities of today’s deluge of data, which he referred to as the “twitterization of the world.” “There’s this enormous, continuous stream of data that you can dip into—there’s so much more data than there has ever been, but it’s noisier and bumpier, and it raises new questions related to how to best treat it and use it,” he said.

Ultimately, Young told listeners, understanding big data is about understanding human behavior. “Big data is a tool only if there is meaning behind it,” he said. “With all the data out there, we still need to maintain a human touch.”

The panel discussions were followed by a networking lunch, and then by four “careers in analytics” sessions designed to offer students insight into what it’s like to work as a business analyst; in digital media; as a manager in analytics consulting; and as a young professional in analytics consulting.

“The 2016 Analytics Colloquium allowed participants a rare opportunity to think about business analytics from a variety of perspectives, as well as gain exposure to a wide range of careers in the field,” Abbasi says. We are incredibly grateful to all colloquium participants for making this a world-class educational event.”

McIntire offers its special thanks to Careers in Analytics session participants R. Arun Balasubramanian, EY; Ben Harden, CapTech; Taylor Jenkins, Red Ventures; Aysha Keisler, Ipsos; Ross Koon, Merkle | RKG; Kate Maxwell, comScore; Travis Moseley, Capital One; Ujwal Neelakantan, Deloitte; Lyndsey Padden, 84.51; Rachna Pathak, Analytic Partners; Matt Peck, Applied Predictive Technologies; Lindsey Preuss, CarMax; Tom Reilly, EY; Lee Scoggins, McKinsey; Curtis Smith, J&J; Jeremy Stern, WillowTree; Michael Thomas, Deloitte; and Emily VanHuysen, Hilton.

By Mary Summers Whittle

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