Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for October 2010

Freakonomics @ IOD: Examining Data Ain’t No Monkey Business

with 2 comments

Apologies in advance if you had no incentive to show up at the Freakonomics keynote session earlier this morning at Information on Demand, because it was, without question, the highlight of my week here in Las Vegas (aside from the Bengal tiger I discovered hiding in my hotel bathroom).

Freakonomics co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner expound on sex, lies, economics and monkey business in their hilarious Information on Demand 2010 keynote session.

Just as with Malcolm Gladwell last year, author Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt artfully integrated some of the themes of the event into their two-man show, and in the process perhaps nearly stole the whole show.

Dubner spoke first, asking the audience to “raise your hand if you’re a genius,” then recognizing the power of his own incentives, warned us away from stealing Levitt: “Find your own, he’s mine.”

Two best-selling books and a documentary movie later, I can’t say as I blame him.  Dubner kicked the session off explaining how he and Levitt came into one another’s orbit, arguing that he was fascinated Levitt was using data to find out what was going on in “the real world.”

Levitt, on the other hand, explained how he eventually became the accidental economist who was abysmal at math and clueless when it came to different varieties of derivatives, but was still able to muscle through at the encouragement of his father, who had found his own niche as a medical researcher on “intestinal gas.”

“The king of farts,” went the GQ profile headline about his father, joked Levitt, before Dubner returned to the stage and kidded that that made Levitt “the prince of farts.”

All hot air aside, Levitt explained his niche became the study of the nichest, yet fascinating, realms of data, and the people who helped unravel them.  Ultimately, though, Levitt was studying the power of incentives, and how they motivated — or didn’t — people across all walks of life.

Like the guy at the IRS who realized there weren’t really 7 million people named “Fluffy,” and how, almost overnight, 7 million people suddenly disappeared from U.S. tax rolls when the Social Security # started being required by filers in 1987 and they could no longer file their ghostly dependents!

Levitt went on to explain he wanted to become the kind of “real economist” who, when he made a mistake, could throw world markets “into convulsions.”  But of course, to be a real economist, he’d have to be good at math, so instead focused on problem sets that nobody else was interested in.

Dubner returned to the fore to explain one of those scenarios, a Yale researcher named Keith Chen who wanted to understand the impact of money in a monkey economy.

That is to say, how capuchin monkeys would react to having money introduced into their milieu (in this case, a research cage at Yale).

The hilarity of the story that ensued couldn’t possibly be done total justice in my retelling here, but know that it had the makings of a great story which you can read more about here in a New York Times article by the authors.

The long and short of it is that monkeys don’t monkey around with money much, at least not how Chen the researcher thought they might, particularly when said money interferes with what the monkeys really wanted more of (food and sex), but they did find a novel way to fit money into their Yale cage monkey business.

As Dubner explained the lesson, economists are all about measuring preferences (revealed and declared), and that the monkeys started to buy more food when the prices of the things they liked to eat most went up, not unlike people.

Ultimately, it’s all about loss aversion, whether the loss be more food or sex.

Speaking of the latter, Levitt returned at this point to close out the session, using another anecdotal example that demonstrated the power of pricing in that most marginal of markets, prostitution.

Never one to shy away from the fringes, Levitt explained how he became acquainted with a high dollar escort in Chicago through a “mutual acquaintance” and who was interested in helping him with his research on the economics of street level escorts.

Turns out, the escort had a Palm Pilot filled with useful data for his investigation, but also came loaded with a background in computer programming and now street business savvy, and she was ultimately able to one-up Levitt when he asked her to lecture to one of his classes, charging a full $100 more per hour than her standard hourly rate, but apparently giving one of the best lectures at the University of Chicago that his students had had in their entire four year tenure.

Though it may not have said much about he and his colleagues’ teaching abilities, the story did reveal to the global IOD audience that Levitt and Dubner continue to unearth powerful data where seemingly none exist, and to relate the revealing insights behind that data in a way that gives testament to the truths and lies of the human condition.

Written by turbotodd

October 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Why The Big Data Chicken Crossed The Road

leave a comment »

“The organizations that are going to be the most competitive are going to be the ones that make the most sense of what they learned as fast as they learn it.”

Does that line sound familiar?

That was the voice of Jeff Jonas, chief scientist with IBM’s Entity Analytics group.  Perhaps you saw him in this IBM TV commercial:

As Jonas asks in the spot, how would you know when to cross the road if you had to use a picture of the intersection taken five minutes before?

In a blogger briefing this afternoon centering on the topic of “Big Data” here at Information on Demand, Jonas explained that organizations must increasingly make sense of data as it’s happening, while it’s happening.

Jonas and several other scientists, researchers, IBM staffers, and even a customer (from Visa) elaborated on this phenomenon during the subsequent hour.

Jonas went on to explain that “new physics is happening with big data. Errors in data actually turn out to be positive. I’m seeing how systems get faster with more data.”

Companies are using Hadoop, as well as IBM’s BigSheets/BigInsights add-ons, to scale their analytics investigations into the real-time stream to solve new problems as they happen.

Which, of course, when you’re trying to make sense of real-time information (think air traffic control, or even street traffic control), could be the thing that allows you to cross the road based on that 5 minute ago snapshot.

Does your head hurt yet?

IBM emerging technology evangelist, David Barnes, explained that he’s partnering with his colleagues in the Big Data realm to bring Hadoop to the line of business professional, driving Big Data analytics down into the lap of the small fry front line businessperson (another common theme of IOD 2010, driving analytical capability deeper into the organization where decisions can be acted on information by those most inclined to do so due to their proximity to the customer).

As a social media marketer, I salivate at the mere prospect: You mean I can hone in what people are saying as they say it, or even after the fact, amidst a data set of 1.2 million Tweets?

Uh, yeah. Bring it on!

And Barnes wasn’t all talk, he had the demo to prove it:

That’s one example of the power of big data.

IBM’s Tom Deutch explained there are other powerful use cases that are emerging, but that more organizations need to take Hadoop out of the lab and into production in order that they be able to put theory into practice and take Big Data for a test drive to address very real business problems.

So if you have to ask why the Big Data chicken crossed the road…well, the answer will likely only come with a few revolutions of your Big Data analysis, but I’m confident that ultimately the answer is he wanted to get to the other side.

Now, and not five minutes ago.  : )

Written by turbotodd

October 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Steve Mills Keynote: Big Data, Big Picture

leave a comment »

In this morning’s first general session keynote at IBM Information on Demand, IBM Senior VP and Group Executive, Systems and Software, Steve Mills, got right to the bottom line on how organizations can go about implementing a smart information agenda and use business analytics to help them make better decisions.

IBM senior VP Steve Mills addresses the challenges of Big Data in his 2010 Information on Demand keynote.

As always, Mills painted in broad brushstrokes to help his audience see what has become something of a George Seurat “pointillist” painting, a sea of data, a mosaic of million and billions of bits and pixels of information that is piling up around us.

It’s increasingly daunting, both in terms of size and volume and velocity, and yet is an enormous business and knowledge insight opportunity as well.

So, you can either run for the hills, or you can buck up and dive into that sea, finding ways to organize it and make sense of it all…and maybe even learn something valuable for your organization.

The world is becoming more instrumed, interconnected, and more intelligent, but by leveraging this massive amount of new information, you can create a new kind of intelligence for your business, suggested Mills.

But it won’t come without some pain, trials, and tribulations.

Mills joked about the explosion in data and real world events, nodding his head to the ever-growing (but meaningless) Twitter and Facebook stream.

What Happens In Vegas…

“Remember,” he seemed to be warning the parents of teenagers in the audience, “what happens in Vegas…will stay on the Internet for a hundred or more years.”

Of course, with 44X as much data and content being generated over the coming decade, and with 80% of world’s data being unstructured (much of it that flow from the Internet, as my friend Ron ironically observed via Twitter), there’s a huge need for a structured approach to managing all this data.

Customers are clearly wrestling with this issue: 35% of customers will look to replace their current warehouse with a pre-integrated warehouse solution in the next 3 years, and only 14% have today.

And yet 83% of CIOs cited “Business intelligence and analytics” as part of their visionary plans to enhance competitiveness.

So, the IBM approach to mastering information for the purpose of optimizing business results is to build a flexible platform for managing, integrating,  analyzing, and governing information.

This is not a random path, but rather a structured, well thought through approach that takes an holistic look at information management.  Mills acknowledged we’re living in a federated world, one with a disparate set of information sources.

That’s why the Big Data challenge requires a Big Data approach, one that can help organizations deal with and benefit from massive and growing amounts of data, that can handle uncertainty around format variability and velocity of data, that can handle all that unstructured data, and one that can exploit big data in a timely and cost effective fashion.

IBM is offering a comprehensive set of solutions for Big Data, one in which interoperability will be key to addressing the unique challenges of the big data ecosystem.

Mills concluded with a big picture statement about all this Big Data: “We’re at an inflection point where IT is going to change the world in the next decade in ways even greater than that which we witnessed over the last 50 years.”

Written by turbotodd

October 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Dr. Atul Gawande: Use Your Knowledge

leave a comment »

I had very much looked forward to this morning’s keynote from Dr. Atul Gawande, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.

Dr. Gawande is a Harvard-trained surgeon and writer, having been a National Book Award finalist for his book Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes On An Imperfect Science, as well as climbing up the New York Times bestseller list for The Checklist Manifesto.

Dr. Atul Gawande speaks about effective knowledge management and use during his keynote session at Information on Demand 2010.


Gawande started his keynote on a solemn note, highlighting the percentage of war injuries to death from the Revolutionary War (42%) through the First Gulf War (24%).

Only in the most recent Iraq and Afghan Wars has that number begun to drop dramatically, to 10% in these latest conflicts.

What brought about this change?

Well, simply put, it’s not unlike the same relationship between data and progress that has been so pervasive in our conversations this year at Information on Demand 2010.

Gawande explained that as our technology for killing in war progressed over history, so, too, has our technology for healing, and even preventing, traumatic injuries.

It was a curious U.S. military colonel (and surgeon) who, after sifting through historical data from our more recent conflicts, discovered the antidote.

One, rank and file troops had finally taken to actually wearing their Kevlar in the field, which they had been resisting for years.

But also, medicine was moving closer to the troops, and we were able to, through these mobile surgical field units, able to reach soldiers inside the window of that critical “golden hour” which can often decide the fate of a patient after traumatic injury.

Furthermore, those surgical units had deconstructed surgery down to its most critical elements, whereby surgeons did only those most critical path procedures in the field, then “packaged” the patient up for further surgery or procedures in Baghdad or even at a base in Germany, where they had more equipment, personnel, etc.

The field surgeon would essentially put a sign on the patient explaining to the next surgeon: “Here’s what I did.  Please finish.”

Finally, the military introduced the use of checklists to ensure that patients were receiving ample supplies of blood, checking for medical allergies, etc. — common, mundane tasks but which could be lifesavers under specific circumstances.

Those few things were all it took to drive the rate of death from 24% to 10% — so much so, that in fact, the military now speaks to the survival rate, as opposed to the death count we often heard in earlier wars.

That is truly data that matters.

As Gawande more bluntly put it, “The metrics of war are now measured in the wounded, not the dead…The whole picture has changed.”

It’s that bigger picture which was the underlying moral lesson of Gawande’s talk.  What does such a change, he asked, tell us about what we’re doing and where we’re going when it comes to data?

As humans, we lived through milennia in a world of ignorance, where we didn’t understand our physical world, our environment, and the like. Though that has changed dramatically in the last half century, where, with reference to the Iraq and Afghan wars, we can save more and more lives in war, we still often don’t know how to execute on the knowledge (read: data) we already have.

Or, we often have the knowledge to solve major problems, but that knowledge doesn’t always reach the people who need it most and who can most act on it.

Having knowledge is not the same as using it, and using it effectively.

Gawande’s message was quite simple: Our challenge in the 21st century will be to learn how to cope with an increasing amount of complexity, data, and even knowledge, and then to find the right data and act on it and use it to human advantage.

To do anything less would be to leave untreated an open and scathing wound defined by ineptitude and ignorance, and we’ve come far too far for that.

Written by turbotodd

October 26, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Unleash Your Intelligence With Cognos 10

with one comment

At this afternoon’s Business Analytics session, IBM Software Business Analytics’ general manager Rob Ashe introduced Cognos 10, new software that combines the most sophisticated business analytics and optimization capabilities for today’s evolving workforce.

For the first time, the new offerings combine social networking and collaboration capabilities for the burgeoning mobile workforce, expected to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013, bringing informed decision-making to people on the front lines.

Call it the democratization of informed decision making.

With this news, IBM is bringing business analytics capabilities to the masses with a new look and feel that more closely mirrors people’s every day use of technology including support for new mobile devices and integrated social networking capabilities for faster, more collaborative decision-making.

The new software takes analytics out of the traditional format of reports and charts to a more interactive design and broader analysis and insight making it easier by providing built-in images and videos to guide business users.

They can now gain instant insight with analytics in an easy to use format anytime, anywhere on their mobile devices.  These new capabilities will have a profound impact on the way all business users interact with their teams, partners, managers and customers around the globe.

Rob Ashe and his team demonstrated some of these new capabilities in the afternoon Business Analytics keynote, providing some very cool demos and an explosive (literally) introduction of the long awaited Cognos 10.

Rob Ashe, General Manager, Business Analytics, IBM Software, prepares to "unbox" the long-awaited Cognos 10 onstage at Information on Demand 2010.

Goin’ Mobile: New Analytics Software Brings Speed to Insight with Social Collaboration and Mobile

Spurred by the growth of mobile transactions, expected to grow by 40 times by 2015, the increase in the rate and pace of data is accelerating the IT opportunity around business analytics and optimization.  When combined with the unprecedented growth of the mobile workforce, this presents an opportunity for businesses to embrace the borderless office and extract intelligence to better interact with customers.

A recent IBM study with 1,900 CFOs globally revealed analytics-driven organizations had 33% more revenue growth with 32% more return on capital invested.

To address these changing market dynamics, IBM announced a set of new business analytics capabilities in the form of Cognos 10.

Cognos 10 is a new version of Cognos software that brings together the power of social collaboration and analytics for business users to gain real-time intelligence in a single, user-friendly interface  — online or through mobile devices such as iPad, iPhones and BlackBerries.

Today, with the launch of Cognos 10, IBM is delivering the most significant analytics offering since the acquisition of Cognos, one of the largest acquisitions in IBM history.

For the first time, this new software brings together the power of social collaboration with Lotus Connections software and business analytics with Cognos in one unified experience with intuitive navigation capabilities and simplified user experience.

This removes the frustration of having to interrupt user train of thought resulting from the need to switch between views to get the right information. The software supports the natural path of seamless views from browsing to investigation to decision making.

End-User Driven Analytics

This new software provides business users with an integrated view of historical information with real-time updates to give users a complete picture of their business.

Now, business users can benefit from accessing information with a range of views from simple real-time information to advanced predictive “what if” analysis.
The integrated social networking capabilities with analytics allow the employees to interact with each other in real time in communities, wikis and blogs.

This combination fuels the exchange of ideas and knowledge that naturally occurs in the decision-making process, but is typically lost in meeting notes, manual processes and emails.  Users can now initiate activities, engage others with their expertise, post messages, files, links, and discuss or review opinions – all in real time for faster, more accurate decision making.

The new Cognos 10 dashboard empowers the end user decision maker to manipulate their reports and make informed business decisions. No visit to the IT back office required (unless you just like making those visits.)

For example, a regional sales manager can spot a spike in sales in a popular pair of shoes with the store manager and marketing team in real time to identify the cause and brainstorm to resolve the issues around managing supply and demand.

Another scenario: Doctors can spot trends for patient treatment of certain diseases, share insight with other doctors, and agree on a preventative course of action and treatment with a team of doctors, all without having to change a single view with this in-depth information.

And yet another: A brand manager sees product sales declining and needs to discuss the issue with the store manager, production department, and marketing team – all at the same time. The manager can instantly set up a decision network to connect the right people and information to share insights and capture annotations.

Rob Ashe explained in his keynote that this was most exhaustive overhaul of the Cognos platform ever, and, appropriately enough, was driven largely by customer feedback and insight.

IBM continues to expand its multi-billion dollar investment in the business analytics and optimization market.

Over the past five years, IBM has invested more than $14 billion in 24 analytics acquisitions. Today, more than 7,000 IBM business consultants are dedicated to analytics.

Written by turbotodd

October 25, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Visa: Winner Of 2010 Information on Demand Innovation Award

leave a comment »

Visa Inc., the global payments technology company, and IBM today announced that Visa is the winner of IBM’s annual Information on Demand 2010 Innovation Award.

This is in recognition of Visa’s leadership in using cutting-edge information technology and real-time data analytics to drive growth, prevent fraud, and improve the consumer payment experience.

More People Go With Visa

With more than 1.8 billion Visa cards accepted at millions of retailers and ATMs around the globe, Visa’s global network, VisaNet, processes a growing number of increasingly complex electronic payments.

Visa’s ability to not only manage but master information in real-time, providing its clients and Visa cardholders with a growing number of information-based services, sets the company apart as a leading innovator in payments today.

“Few people recognize the critical role VisaNet plays in not only transaction processing, but delivering business intelligence and real-time information that empowers financial institutions, retailers, and Visa account holders,” said Mike Dreyer, Chief Information Officer, Visa, Inc. “Only because Visa is able to touch each transaction generated from our products can we deliver this level of innovation that fuels commerce globally and expands the utility and reach of digital currency worldwide.

Dreyer was in attendance at the event and spoke during this morning’s keynote session in an interview conducted by IBM Software VP, Robert Leblanc, about Visa’s progress with information analytics.

Visa was recognized by IBM for achievements to date in information management and a visionary plan to further transform Visa’s business. By harnessing and analyzing the data behind each transaction, Visa is adding value to the traditional payment transaction and providing its clients with improved business intelligence.

VisaNet, the world’s largest retail electronic payments network processes more than 100 billion transactions each year representing more than $4.8 trillion in value. Its centralized processing architecture enables Visa to analyze information in real-time and is a catalyst for innovations. Visa information-based services are among the most advanced in the payments industry, they include:

  • Real-Time Fraud Monitoring: Visa’s Advanced Authorization risk scores are based on a global view of fraud and spending patterns across the entire Visa network. Because VisaNet processes more electronic payments globally than other networks, Visa has unique capabilities to identify fraud on individual accounts and coordinated attacks on multiple accounts across the system, enabling an issuer to potentially stop fraud at the check-out, before it occurs.
  • Transaction Alerts: Visa transaction alerts are sent on behalf of financial institutions directly from VisaNet, Visa’s global processing network, typically within seconds of a transaction occurring. Alerts are triggered when the transaction meets certain criteria the account holder has selected and are delivered directly to the account holder via email or SMS text message. Visa’s transaction alerts let consumers monitor their accounts for unusual activity and take immediate action if they believe a potentially fraudulent transaction is taking place.
  • Offers: Visa account holders are able to receive offers from merchants directly to their mobile phone. Offers range from discounts and loyalty points that can be redeemed at the point of sale. For consumers and merchants alike, this service ensures the most relevant offers are sent in a timely manner, helping increase merchant traffic, loyalty and customer satisfaction. Merchants benefit from better targeting and more efficient marketing spend and cardholders get more of the offers they want.

Visa is currently working with IBM as part of a global initiative to continue Visa’s heritage of analyzing payment system data to deliver ever-greater value to customers and cardholders. The initiative is designed to further enhance Visa’s ability to deliver real-time business intelligence to global clients and account holders, and will help ensure Visa’s information-based services remain a key competitive differentiator.

IBM’s Innovation Awards are given out annually at IBM’s Information on Demand Conference. Winners are selected among thousands of clients that are using IBM technologies to transform their business.

Written by turbotodd

October 25, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Hertz and IBM: Catching The Voice Of The Customer

with 3 comments

At the Information on Demand event here in Las Vegas today, IBM announced that the Hertz Corporation and Mindshare Technologies, a leading provider of enterprise feedback solutions, are using IBM analytics software to examine customer survey data including text messages to better identify car and equipment rental performance levels for pinpointing and making the necessary adjustments to improve customer satisfaction levels.

That, and no more running through airports.

Hertz has partnered with IBM to use "Voice of the Customer" data, gathered from social media data, to gain new insights and improve the car rental customer experience.

As the world’s largest airport car rental brand with more than 8,300 locations in 146 countries, Hertz continually receives feedback from customers. To retain its competitive edge, the feedback is analyzed so that real-time identification of issues and rapid problem solving solutions can be deployed.

Using IBM Content Analytics software together with a sentiment-based tagging solution from IBM business partner, Mindshare Technologies, Hertz introduced a “Voice of the Customer” analytics systems that automatically captures customer experiences in real-time, transforming the information into actionable intelligence.

Hertz: Putting Front Line Employees Into The Decision-Making Driver’s Seat

Using a series of linguistic rules, Hertz’s “Voice of the Customer” system categorizes comments received via email and online with descriptive terms such as “Vehicle Cleanliness,” “Staff Courtesy,” and “Mechanical Issues.”

The system also flags customers who request a callback from a manager or those who mention #1 Club Gold, Hertz’s customer loyalty program (and of which I am a longtime member).

In the ultra-competitive world of vehicle and equipment rental, Hertz recognizes that understanding customer feedback and adapting the business accordingly is what drives market share and success.

But, most of this information is trapped inside free-form customer feedback surveys.  Prior to working with IBM and Mindshare Technologies, Hertz location managers read each customer comment submitted online via email or by phone and then manually categorized it for basic reporting and analysis.

This approach proved to be labor-intensive and inconsistent, as comments were categorized based on a manager’s personal interpretation.

IBM content analytics software has improved the accuracy and speed of the tagging and analyzing process, almost double what had been achieved manually, and setting the stage for more reliable analytics.

Free from manually tagging comments, Hertz field managers can now focus their attention on performing deep-dive analysis on the information, and allowing them to quickly identify trends or issues and adjusting operational service levels accordingly.

For you social media advocates, you know the Internet and new social media technologies have made consumers more connected, empowered, and yes, even demanding.

Like it or not, the average user is three times more likely to trust peer opinions over retailer advertising, underlining the importance for retailers to tap new technologies that pay close attention to what customers are saying.

This effort with Hertz reflects IBM’s focus on helping new customers get the most out of their information using analytics.

IBM recently created a new Business Analytics & Optimization services organization, with 7,000 consultants who can help clients get up and running with deep analytics capabilities.

IBM has invested more than $14 billion in the analytics space in the last four years with more than 24 acquisitions.

Blogger’s Addendum: The following video provides an excellent overview of the IBM and Mindshare “Voice of the Customer” solution they partnered on with Hertz:

Written by turbotodd

October 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm

%d bloggers like this: