How Far Can Data Bring You?
For the second panel of DLD13's final day, Burda's own Paul-Bernhard Kallen moderates a discussion between Werner Vogels (Amazon.com), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco Systems) and Dr. DJ Patil (Greylock Partners).
After Kallen's light and concise introductions to his speakers, he gets straight to the topic at hand: big data. The three speakers each have their own, slightly different view of what big data is. Werner Vogels' is the one most tightly tied to corporate thinking: "Big data is collecting enough knowledge to give you a competitive edge." Of course it is not enough to simply collect that data. Companies also have to learn from it. Vogels says Amazon.com does so much data collection and interpretation that essentially it is a very large research institute.
Patil points out that new emerging companies make data analyses a central activity from their earliest days of conception. Once a company has then managed to attract customers, it has to continuously analyse their interests and wishes using data. Having a very strong, loyal customer base has largely become a thing of the past, meaning that these days companies need to actively maintain customers.
But Warrior argues that amassing data and making good use of it is not as easy as it sounds. "We need to listen to data - but human behaviour is hard to change." Her point is that often companies, including Cicso Systems, will collect large volumes of data without knowing what to do with it. Even if that data clearly indicates a certain action is not working (Warrior gives the example of Cisco Systems 'Message in a Bottle' dissemination), organisations tend to stick to their guns and keep going down the same path. "Admitting something is wrong or not working well is a big ego challenge," Warrior says. "But that's what has to happen."
Kallen asks Patil whether integrating new lessons from data is easier in smaller companies. "I think the most important thing is that everyone comes together to really discuss their data," Patil answers. Companies need to appreciate data and use it well, without obsessing about every single piece of information. "Just having data gets you on the field but it doesn’t get you in the position to win. You have to interpret it for that," Patil says. The mere fact that you do interpret the data shows you have the curiosity to ask questions and also an ability to weave what you find into a compelling story to present to others.
Warrior feels that as the amount of data available for collection grows exponentially, human intuition is gaining in value. People have to be capable to deal with large volumes of data, even when some of it is conflicting.
"Yes, you start with your gut intuition," Patil agrees, "and then test the hell out of that to bring you from failure to success." Vogels adds there is no quicker way to revoke customer trust than to use data for a purpose different from the one you told them.
"At one point you can use data insights to generate automated processes – to take the human out of the loop," Vogels adds. In fact, Vogel believes we have entered a scientific fourth paradigm as science is no longer theory or model driven, but data driven.
With no questions from the floor, the discussion comes to a close.