“Big Data” Seminar Raises, Answers Questions

The answers were as challenging as the questions. And while the audience gained some valuable insights, the only definitive advice from the panelists was that big data is a major factor now, and will only become more so in the future.

Deloitte's Danson poses questions

Deloitte’s Danson poses questions

L&Q’s fourth offering of its popular Seminar Series, “The Next Frontier: Big Data and the Financial Executive” (Sept. 17, 2013), assembled a diverse industry panel of expert practitioners and thought leaders. After a pleasant reception, and a welcome from L&Q President Michael P. Whelan (EY), moderator Forrest Danson (U.S. Analytics Practice Leader, Deloitte Consulting) opened up discussion on a wide range of questions, not the least of which was What is it?”

Panelists included Eileen Carlson (MBA ’85), director, Information Governance, Baxter Healthcare; Marketing Department Chair and Professor Suzanne Fogel of DePaul’s Center for Data Mining and Predictive Analytics; Roger Hartmuller, vice president, Information Services Group, Allstate;  Phil Shelley, president, Newton Park Partners and a recognized leader in IT development, and Pete Srejovic, vice president, Technology, Nielsen.

Answering Danson’s initial question proved elusive. Carlson and Fogel discussed “The Three V’s”–volume, variety and velocity (with “unprecedented” prefixed to each)–which are what separates big data from simple data. Carlson also spoke of its wide range of impact: people, policies, processes, products, technology, strategy, marketing, customers–virtually everything. The “yield” of big data, said panelist Shelley, is information (again prefixed by “unprecedented”) of a fine granularity, or level of detail (and thus insight) available, and of timeliness approaching real time. These concepts are so new that business is just starting to grapple with them and understand their potential.

Allstate’s Hartmuller explained the development of “self-optimizing modules,” advanced algorithms that refine themselves with use: more data put through more sophisticated analytic tools yields even finer, more accurate and timely information, as well as a still-sharper analytic tool (which further refines itself, etc.).

Nielsen’s Srejovic mentioned a startling outcome of this process: while business today carefully manages supply chains, the next step is analyzing demand chains”–harnessing the predictive power of big data to influence and manage, even create and control, customer demand.

(l-r) Panelists Danson, Carlson, Srejovic, Fogel, Hartmuller and Shelley

(l-r) Panelists Danson, Carlson, Srejovic, Fogel, Hartmuller and Shelley

There were plenty of anecdotes of the “creepiness” of such concepts, but Danson turned to educational aspects: who will “run” big data, how will they be educated, and where will industry find such people? The panel agreed that while demand is huge, supply is slim and the requisite knowledge and skills elusive.

Universities, too, are grappling. Having the intuition to know what questions should be asked is key. Shelley suggested a creatively intuitive “discovery-mindedness” is necessary to exploit the possibilities. But, he opined, an IT person with the soul of a poet is a rare combination indeed.

That aside, DePaul’s MS in Predictive Analytics is drawing national attention, being listed in Info Week’s “Top 20 Big Data Analytics Masters Degrees.” With a growing enrollment, multi-disciplinary faculty and curriculum, two concentrations, industry-sponsored internships–and being available completely on line–the DePaul program is addressing the need for data scientists that have the right blend of technical and analytic skills to master this new field.

Kevin Stevens, director of the School of Accountancy, wrapped up the program, thanked our panelists, and recognized L&Q Executive Committee members Bill Razzino (CareerBuider) and Joe Gatto (Ft. Sheridan Group) for their efforts in arranging the fourth offering of the L&Q Seminar Series.

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