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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

5 Minutes with a Consultant: Tom Smith of Insights From Analytics

Tom Smith, principal consultant with Insights From Analytics, spoke to Upside about his work helping enterprises analyze data and why all enterprises should be talking to their customers.

Many organizations want to use analytics to improve their business, but they don’t know where to start. Sometimes that’s when they bring in a consultant like Tom Smith of Insights From Analytics. His consulting work focuses on helping enterprises optimize their marketing through analytics and customer research. Smith spoke with Upside recently about his work.

UPSIDE: What’s a personality trait you think people need to succeed at your job?

Tom Smith: Empathy and curiosity. You need to understand the business problem you are trying to solve and think of creative ways to get at the solution to the problem -- for example, finding data and data sources the client may not have considered. When you are a consultant, you need to have empathy for those you are solving the problem for as well as those that can provide more insight into the solution, such as end users or customers.

Are you working on anything interesting right now? If not, what’s your dream project?

Right now I’m interviewing IT executives on topics such as big data and IoT to understand what they’re seeing and where they see the industry going. My dream project is to interview customers for Chipotle. I’m a huge fan, having eaten 2,710 burrito bowls over the past nine years, and I’d like to help them understand how and why customers do or do not make an emotional connection to their brand.

Is there a tool or technique that isn’t popular today but has a lot of potential?

Not enough people appreciate how in-depth one-on-one interviews can add insights to (and fill the gaps in) big data analytics. You may know all of the steps the consumer took before making a purchase decision. However, you don’t know the ultimate reason for the decision until you speak to the customer and ask them. Everything else is simply conjecture.

Too many companies rely only on data and never talk to customers, so they never learn the needs, wants, and emotional reasons behind their purchase decisions.

What’s the most common roadblock you hit in your work? How do you deal with it?

Clients and employers who do not see the value of talking to customers are a big roadblock for me. I know a number of case studies in which the voice of the customer provided the critical insight needed to answer a question or drive the strategic direction of the company.

Where is data analytics/data science headed in the next few years?

The major trends I see are all related to real-time decision making in the cloud, based on the collection of large amounts of data and machine learning.

Soon we’ll have more accurate data and can automatically let people know when they need to relocate due to an impending disaster -- tornado, hurricane, flood, etc. We will be remotely monitoring patients and reminding them to take their medicines or head to a hospital because they’re about to experience a traumatic medical event.

As Tesla is already doing, cars will receive software upgrades remotely. The sensors in your car will let you know when to bring your car in for service to avoid the failure of a part that sensors are monitoring. Farmers will be able to grow more productively and efficiently by knowing precisely how much water and nutrition is needed for a particular crop. That data will be shared with commodity traders so they know how crop yields are looking based on data from millions of acres of commodities around the world.

There is a myriad of opportunities for big data, IoT, and machine learning. However, we should never forget that the ultimate goal should be improving quality of life for the end user.

About the Author

James E. Powell is the editorial director of TDWI, including research reports, the Business Intelligence Journal, and Upside newsletter. You can contact him via email here.

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