TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

5 Minutes with an Analyst: Russab Ali of SMC Digital Marketing

Many enterprises are leveraging data analytics to increase customer engagement or track marketing campaigns. Russab Ali, a founder of a data-driven digital marketing agency, spoke with Upside recently about this work.

Analytics is a hot topic in marketing today. Enterprises are leveraging data to increase customer engagement or track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Russab Ali is one of the founders of SMC Digital Marketing, a data-driven digital marketing agency. Ali spoke with Upside recently about his work.

UPSIDE: Is there a tool or technique that isn't popular today but has a lot of potential? Why?

Russab Ali: When people think about a tool in the field of data science, there is no contest -- R is the most popular data tool today for statistical models and visualization. However, Python is right behind, with tools such as scikit-learn and iPython.

A tool that isn't quite as popular today and is just starting to ignite is Apache Spark. Right now, Spark is famous for its processing speed (because it uses both in-memory and disk processing); some people even think it will replace Hadoop in the future. It can change the way businesses use big data to improve operations, reach customers, and discover new insight. It's quite easy to learn, and it runs basically everywhere.

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

The future of data analytics is laser-focused on advanced analytics and digging deeper to find patterns. The intention is to build models that can be used by C-level executives to reach business goals such as improving customer service or reducing costs.

Just in the last few years, the progress in AI and machine learning has been incredible, with the Google AI DeepMind beating the Go world champion 4-1. Of course, that isn't the first time a machine has beaten a world champion, in 1987 IBM's DeepBlue defeated world champion chess player Kasparov. The difference this time is that DeepMind was not a preprogrammed system; it learned entirely from experience.

Although many debate whether data science is going to bring on a robot invasion, I believe it is leading toward the automation of many jobs. Think automated lawyers, personalized medicine, and automated fraud detection.

What's a personality trait you think people need to succeed at your job?

I think an important characteristic to have in this field is creativity. With so much information and the ability to process so much with advanced tools, solutions come from being able to find the right questions that lead to important answers. Creativity is necessary to view information from different angles. It's this creative exploration of data that exposes patterns and information that can change the future.

For example, a recent data set I worked with was over 1TB. It's easy to go into the data set and look for common explanations (e.g., growth in a simple correlation). However, truly great data scientists need to think of crazy possibilities and test them.

What's the one thing you wish people knew about your job?

I wish people knew that the applications of data science are quite broad and reach beyond the fields of mathematics and statistics. Data science is important for advancements in medicine, artificial intelligence, and even marketing. For example, data science can use logistics to optimize delivery routes and marketing strategies. In the future, once automation becomes much more common, data science will be used in almost every single task.

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

Currently, as the director of a marketing firm, my projects involve understanding consumer behavior and optimizing digital assets for these behaviors. Although I truly enjoy this, my dream project would to work on personalized medicine.

Data science technologies are being used to analyze DNA strands to find anomalies and patterns that can expose information about various diseases. There is the potential to find, if not a cure, at least the cause of autism, cancer, and other diseases. Personalized medicine is the idea of altering treatment based on the DNA of the patient, so it can be better suited to an individual. Perhaps a few years down the road I'll switch industries, but for now I'm quite happy where I am.

About the Author

James E. Powell is the editorial director of TDWI, including the Business Intelligence Journal and Upside newsletter.

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