A lineup of expert panelists and more than 25 leading industry partners were on hand Sept. 1 to provide students with insights on state-of-the-art data practices for the 2017 edition of the Analytics Colloquium at the McIntire School of Commerce. Sponsored by the School’s Center for Business Analytics, the fourth annual installment of the one-day event delved deep into the growing fields of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) and discussed the many trends affecting the digital market ecosystem and customer journey.
McIntire IT Professor Ahmed Abbasi, colloquium organizer and CBA Director, was grateful for the thought leadership professionals’ participation at the event. “We’re very fortunate to have long-term relationships with such amazing industry partners who have brought well over 300 years of combined experience to share with us. And it’s important to note that they don’t just come down to Charlottesville once a year—most are with companies that closely interact with us in many ways. Their ongoing involvement allows us to innovate in our curriculum and in our research.”
Using examples from the gaming world to illustrate the exponential progress of AI and automation, Abbasi explained that the technologies are poised to affect most aspects of our lives, and intensify the importance of measuring those changes—especially in business. “Analytics is about supporting data-driven decision making. So if you have better insights, you can take better actions, which can hopefully result in better business outcomes.”
Kicking off the guest presentations, Cliff Young, President of U.S. Public Affairs at Ipsos, contextualized the massive influx of behavioral data his company uses to serve its clients, reinforcing Abbasi’s opening statements. Young’s company, which works primarily in polling and forecasting, relies on data collected from a wide range of sources, including social media, traditional surveys, wearables, satellites, and even drones, proving just how remarkably pervasive the growing need for analytics has become.
“Do you know that in all the major cities in the world, there are drone patrols, 24-7? And you can actually hire services to download that data in a given urban area,” Young said. “There’s a lot of automation and AI involved, and using it has only improved our analytics. We’re going towards a world in which we’re fusing multiple layers of data together for our decision makers.”
Todd Kennedy (Engineering ’96), an indispensable mainstay of the colloquium since its inception, discussed the adoption and impact of automation and AI across all sectors. The Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Data Transformation at Capital One highlighted how advancements in AI and predictive analytics will unlock opportunities to help consumers in ways they can’t even imagine today with more personalized, real-time, and relevant experiences. He also stressed that although AI will accelerate workplace productivity, the human element is still required – strong judgement, ethics, and values cannot be replaced by machines.
Fellow panelist Chris Huff concurred. A Senior Manager with Deloitte Consulting and leader of the company’s robotics initiatives, he detailed how these developments necessitate a human-software collaboration. The technologies are shifting the workforce, delegating low-value, transactional tasks to digital services, while engaging employees with discretionary actions requiring measured judgment and critical thinking.
These actions arising from automation and AI entail practicing suitable data governance, as Joanna Bergeron (A&S ’98, M.S. in MIT ’03), Principal and Chief Talent Officer at CapTech, explained. These exciting breakthroughs are ultimately helping her clients move from predictive to prescriptive data analysis, carrying the potential to actually influence what happens within their businesses. Futuristic, indeed.
From Browsing to Buying
Focusing on the customer journey and the analytics related to the purchasing process, McIntire Marketing Professor Rick Netemeyer served as the second session’s moderator on a panel that featured Chip Garate (M.S. in MIT ’08), Senior Vice President at comScore, a leading B2B audience-measuring company that recently partnered with Abbasi and IT Professor Jingjing Li on a consumer study. Li presented their intriguing findings, which revealed the results of 2,500 customers’ perceptions of 50 retailers as utilitarian or hedonic (pleasurable or just for fun), which produced markedly different paths to purchase in the digital space.
Explaining how influencing the customer journey is replete with challenges, return guest Jeff Campbell (Engineering ’01), Vice President at Applied Predictive Technologies, discussed the one example everyone in the room had experienced: being inundated by email offers. Being tempted by low operating costs presents businesses with the unwanted byproduct of driving potential customers away. Once again, data continues to influence the experimental design work behind the thousands of campaigns that Applied Predictive Technologies automates.
“We’re increasingly taking analysis and making it so that the software can identify the drivers behind customer decisions at scale,” Campbell said. With data being measured on an automated basis, it provides companies with a powerful means of making smart decisions and learning quickly from past campaigns to better serve their customers.
Four-time panelist and Hilton Worldwide Vice President Martin Stolfa echoed the importance of applying personalized analytics to refine each customer’s experience: “Whichever way the customer chooses to interact with us, we have to be there to respond with a relevant timely and most importantly consistent message. That needs to be done for every guest and every time that contact is made.”
Zooming out from the micro to the macro view, George Kaczmarskyj (Engineering ’92), Principal at EY, spoke about the large-scale undertaking required to ultimately improve how users interact with business products: “Customer journey requires a real transformation across multiple dimensions. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘I’ve got to automate these specific processes.’ It’s how do we think about the entire change: people, data, analytics, automation. There’s not just one thing that’s going to make a difference in the customer journey.”
The immense job of integrating automation and analyzing the substantial data extracted from user experiences ensures that software isn’t threatening to eliminate the need for a well-educated and motivated workforce. “You have to have intellectual curiosity, to keep up with all of the changes in technology and all of the cool tools, but frankly, we need as many people as possible to help us,” Garate said.
With the ever-growing significance of analytics across industries, Abbasi reminded the students in attendance of its potential to influence their career paths. “Analytics impacts all of us, irrespective of whether you plan to formally pursue a career as a business analyst or an analytics consultant or do creative at an ad agency or investment banking on Wall Street. The colloquium was born from a student need for information on these essential analytics topics, and coupling that with the chance to meet face-to-face with our incredible industry partners at today’s event allows students to make better decisions about the future.”
McIntire extends special thanks to session participants Katie Bean, Merkle; Joanna Bergeron, CapTech Consulting; Nicolas Boyon, Ipsos; Sara Brodsky, Capital One; Jeff Campbell, Applied Predictive Technologies (APT); Aydin Cashel, APT; Jenny Chen, EY; Susannah Derr, 84.51; Olivia Duke, Red Ventures; Karl Edinger, Red Ventures; Chip Garate, comScore; Ben Harden, CapTech; Chris Huff, Deloitte; George Kaczmarskyj, EY; Aysha Keisler, Ipsos; Todd Kennedy, Capital One; Jade Kim, Analytic Partners; Jesse Lindsay, comScore; Wes Mabee, Hilton; Matt Mlot, CarMax; Ujwal Neelakantan, Deloitte; David Pierce, Deloitte; Chris Pritcher, Merkle; Tom Reilly, EY; Michelle Roberts, General Mills; Emily Smith, Analytic Partners; Jordan Smith, EY; Miles Sollinger, Deloitte; Jeremy Stern, WillowTree; Martin Stolfa, Hilton; and Cliff Young, Ipsos.