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To build an analytics culture, think like an art curator

Inhi Cho Suh, vice president and general manager of big data, integration, and governance at IBM, urged CIO attendees at the recent SIMposium 2014 conference in Denver to change their thinking when it comes to competition.

“Your competitor isn’t who you think you’re competitor is,” Suh said. “Your competitor is the last best experience your customer had in any industry. If he or she had it at home, if she or he had it as they were on Spotify… whatever that person’s last best experience, [it’s] now your minimum bar.”

So how can companies become their customers’ last best experience?  For starters, CIOs should help their companies “build a culture that infuses analytics everywhere,” Suh said. This doesn’t mean hiring five data scientists and calling it a day. Analytics everywhere is about making data more readily available and empowering people to be more data driven, she said. This is not an abstract goal — being data-driven for the sake of being data-driven.

“The number one use case [for infusing the company with analytics] is actually to attract, grow, retain customers,” Suh said.  Companies need to be focused on customer retention and attrition rates because it’s a huge driver, not only for growth, Suh said, but also for profitability.

Building an “analytics everywhere” culture will require building the architecture to support it.

“This is about changing your architecture because the cost of storage has come down significantly for the last five years. And then on top of that you have new capabilities like Hadoop; you have new capabilities like stream computing; you have new capabilities that allow you to …process more data than you ever could in a lot less time with a lot less spend,” Suh said.

But the bedrock of an analytics culture of course is data, and CIOs, she said, must learn to think like … art curators (!)  when it comes to data governance. The analogy turns out to be pretty apt.

Art curators understand what art to portray to what audience. They also catalogue the history of art work, label it appropriately, know who created that piece of art, who last held that piece of art, who enjoyed that piece of art at different stages, and can estimate the value of that piece of art.

“This is a role I expect every CIO, CTO, data officer, chief data officer, data steward to begin to embody,” Suh said.

A single data point gives rise to a multitude of questions

Defining data is complex task, because a single piece of data can trigger a multitude of questions. Consider the data generated from a man who walks into a jewelry story and buys an expensive watch, Suh said.

“If I’m a bank, my fraud department is asking, ‘Is this fraud?’ Is this a valid transaction? My legal department says, ‘Hey, is it money laundering?’ If it’s money laundering then I also have a legal obligation to report that transaction and/or pattern at that particular store. If that same data set is actually valid, my marketing department or my credit card department is saying, ‘Wow, could he be a potential loyal client?’,” she said.

Asking questions is one thing, the business also needs to be able to access data in real time so those questions can be answered.

“When we talk about curating this information we’re talking about, can you do it in a much more governed way and make that information available?” Suh said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34.

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