Customer experience is more than just a hot steak

100919562There’s a restaurant here in Raleigh called the Angus Barn.  It’s one of my favorite places to eat and unwind after work. They’ve got top-notch steak and quality cold beer, but what really sets the place apart is the customer experience they provide.

There’s a cigar room in the back called the “Meat Locker.” To get there from the front entrance you have to walk through the kitchen and back hallways of the main restaurant.  It’s like walking through a maze, so half the fun is getting there. You can imagine the delicious aromas the kitchen provides. I’ve been there enough times that I could find my own way through, but each time I arrive, an attendant from the restaurant appears to personally escort me.

What happens next still amazes me.  Every employee I walk by stops what they’re doing, smiles and says, “have a nice dinner,” “enjoy your evening,” or “thank you for being here.” It’s clear they’re all customer driven.  No matter what their job is, they understand how they impact the customer experience, and it keeps me coming back.

What does steak have to do with a software company?  Well, at SAS, we’re customer driven too.  For nearly 40 years, it’s been in the fabric of our culture: We put the customer at the center of our universe. When we make decisions — be it solution offerings or hiring new employees — it’s through the lens of our customers’ point of view.

I’m often asked how SAS continues to build on this cornerstone of our culture.

Here are my top three answers:

  1. Don’t just hear your customers, really listen.  Strive to understand their wants, their needs and their challenges. What help do they need from you? Understand how customers want to interact with you and with their own customers.  That’s what drives business decisions.
  2. Be honest about the help you can provide. This means not automatically saying yes to everything just to satisfy an immediate ask.  This is a tough one, because we want to make our customers happy, but more importantly, we need to offer ideas and do the right things to make them successful in the long run.
  3. Have the right assets in place to aid your customers.  People, processes and technology come to mind.  I love telling folks about our amazing customer contact center, technical support team and newly launched @SAS_Cares social media support team on Twitter.

Much like the staff at Angus Barn, I tell my teams to be out front and ready. We’re all in this together – we all have a role to play in providing a world-class customer experience.

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Can analytics play a role in cybersecurity?

75673483In the same week, my local newspaper ran a story about the hacking of celebrities’ cell phone photos and a separate story about a data breach at 216 neighborhood Jimmy John’s restaurants across the country.

Meanwhile, some of our most trusted global retailers have been the victims of customer data leaks. And governments around the world are struggling to balance the privacy of citizens with the data surveillance needs for preventing legitimate cyber and terrorist threats.

The clear message here is that no one is immune. Cybersecurity is an issue that affects us all.

But what can we do to keep our personal data safe, to ensure our business and transaction data is secure, and to develop surveillance programs within reason to support national security?

In each of those areas – at home, at work and in our national defense – how can analytics play a role?

First, let’s look at the real issues: Networks are being infiltrated in many different ways. From individuals, from computers, from automated systems, from inside and outside trusted boundaries. How can you prevent the threat or recognize the vulnerability when it is happening so quickly and in so many different guises?

And time is of the essence. You can’t wait an hour, a day or a week. If you can’t detect the breach when it’s happening, you don’t have a chance of avoiding potential devastation to your business, your personal reputation or your nation’s security.

What is the solution? We’ve seen that high-speed analytics can detect credit card fraud in the instant that it is happening. And we know how to capture and analyze data as it streams continuously into the network from sensors and devices. Today’s top experts in cybersecurity are combining these concepts to compare normal behavior with abnormal behavior, and to model legitimate traffic so that the system can detect the opposite: suspect behavior.

For instance, should this machine be talking to that machine? Is this frequency of network traffic common for this time of day? Does data passing from this location to that location fit into a larger pattern?

The data is streaming too fast for a human to ask and answer these types of questions. But advanced analytics and the technologies mentioned above make it possible to answer them all within seconds.

When those seconds could be the difference needed to keep your iPhone photos private, to ensure your credit card information is secure and to protect your national interests from cybercrime, I think the answer is clear: Analytics has a definite role to play in cybersecurity.

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Fighting fraudsters

145856019You might assume that a battle-tested businessman with a gruff exterior and a taste for salty language lacks an inner child, but you’d be wrong. Exhibit A is this little-known fact:

I have a soft spot for animated Disney movies.

Now, I could try to bluff a bit and say that my appreciation for “kid stuff” came about only by virtue of being a parent. But I’d rather just man up and let it be known that Carl T. Farrell likes cartoons. (And while we’re being confessional, I’m a fan of Harry Potter, too.) I enjoy these films because they offer such a strong contrast between good and evil. Let’s face it, seeing bad guys get what’s coming to them is just plain fun to watch.

And that’s exactly why I like fighting fraud with SAS. For me, outwitting criminals is a huge source of job satisfaction. I love the fact that the software we make has the power to “seek and destroy” the enemy. And I get to hear these stories all the time, because SAS is giving fraudsters the old one-two punch every day, all over the world. A great example is Laurentian Bank in my home country of Canada.

If we were telling this tale as a movie, the hero would certainly have a sizable hurdle to overcome. Financial crime costs Canadian financial institutions more than $1 billion a year. And while it’s not too hard to shut down suspicious transactions in a single channel, banks like Laurentian don’t have it that easy. They have to monitor accounts of every variety, plus the people who use them, and the credentials (legitimate or otherwise) that each entity provides.

Think of it like this: Instead of trying to catch one criminal sneaking in through the back door, banks have to be watching all doors, windows, floorboards – even the garden gate.

To strengthen its watchful eye and see the “big picture” of approaching threats, Laurentian Bank tied together three critical components of SAS® Enterprise Financial Crimes for Banking: SAS® Anti-Money Laundering, SAS® Fraud Network Analysis and SAS® Enterprise Case Management. It’s a triple punch right in the face of the bad guys, and it provides the bank with the ability to uncover unknown relationships among its customers, accounts and businesses – shining a spotlight on the fraudsters in action.

Of course, sometimes it’s not easy to catch a thief red-handed. Money laundering is a crime that can really only be detected after the fact. Fortunately, the three-pronged solution of Laurentian Bank speeds up the detection process for this type of crime, shortening the time required to shut down an account from six to eight days to just two hours. Score another one for the heroes.

But since bad guys are never permanently down for the count, we’re already looking to the scene of the next battle: cybercrime. Stay tuned for SAS to star in this “fraud double feature.” You’ll be hearing more about our efforts in cyber very soon.

There’s something cosmically satisfying about outsmarting someone who’s up to no good. It rights a wrong. It sets the world in order. It tips the balance back toward hope. And that’s not “soft.” That’s tough on crime.

To learn more about how Laurentian Bank is using analytics to combat fraud and money laundering, click here.

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How are analytics moving the world?

155786129Over the past few years, I’ve talked a lot about analytics culture. In speeches, in conversations with customers and even in posts on this blog, it’s a topic that comes up again and again: How do you create a culture that encourages analytical thinking and data driven decisions?

This is still an important topic, but I’ve noticed a lot of organizations are moving beyond that. They’re bought into the idea of analytics and they know the cultural issues are important, but now they want to hear examples. How are other businesses using analytics to move the world? And how can their ideas be applied across other industries?

As we move into October and finalize plans for this year’s Premier Business Leadership Series, I expect to have similar conversations. Executives at this event are well informed in terms of what data can bring to their businesses. Now they’re interested in hearing specific use cases, and they’ll find a lot of that in the conference agenda, especially in the sessions and workshops.

Whether you attend one of our conferences or network in our online communities, come with questions: What’s working? What’s not working? What’s making a difference? What projects are other people finding valuable? Are they industry specific? Or are they universal?

We hope you’ll find the answers to these and other questions – and that you find some inspiration too.

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Q4 2014 Intelligence Quarterly: Global citizenship and the role of technology

4Q 2014 Intelligence Quarterly: Journal of Advanced AnalyticsBusinesses taking action to expand and enrich their social responsibilities. Public sector agencies improving the lives of citizens. These are some of the stories I hear from customers and colleagues around the world that inspire me. And these are the stories I wish to share with you in the latest issue of Intelligence Quarterly – stories that bring to life the many ways analytics helps make our world a better place to live.

Turn on the news today, and – more often than not – you will hear stories of disease, abuse, poverty and war. The financial news is not much different, although the increasing use of behavioral economics offers some hope. When businesses can better understand – and meet – customer motives and expectations, everyone wins.

We often hear that growth is the answer to all our problems. However, growth alone will not suffice. As behavioral economics develop, we need “inclusive growth,” where everyone can play a part and all sectors can benefit.

We know a brighter future is possible for all. As the following stories illustrate, analytics is a powerful technology that can be used to improve our world. The global family needs us now more than ever, and technology has a role to play in global citizenship. Just consider:

  • In New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development is using analytics as a tool for transformation, to help struggling young people create a better future. This is a perfect example of inclusive growth: It helps the individual, the society and the economy alike. What you'll learn: How better targeting empowers welfare beneficiaries with confidence and life skills, and reduces the cycle of long-term benefit dependency.
  • After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, analytics helped aid workers prioritize assistance levels and supply distribution. What you'll learn: How the International Organization for Migration incorporated social media data with geographic and real-time data to find higher concentrations of diarrhea and fever, and to discover that the greatest needs in Guiuan were for antibiotics and fuel for hospital generators.
  • In France, job seekers who collect unemployment benefits are receiving assistance that is customized to their unique situations. What you'll learn: How analytics has helped empower local service branches to design personalized pathways to employment, helping them meet statewide quality and consistency standards and goals.
  • We've also included five inspiring examples of how health care organizations are changing the way we look at health on a global scale. One enables early intervention and reduces hospital stays for veterans in Australia. Another pools patient information worldwide to expedite medical research. And yet another has saved hundreds of lives in North Carolina thanks to analytics, with the potential to save even more.

Here at SAS, we are committed to helping organizations use data for good. Big data must be used to close the gap between perception and mathematical truth. And this can only be done with analytics.

Another way to become global citizens and agents of change in our communities is to spread the positive stories of disruptive technologies improving society.

To that end, our work here at SAS has never been more important. As we remain focused on our work at hand, I am confident that we will not only contribute to inclusive growth, but also to the role big data analytics will play in improving the lives of those around us.

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Five crucial behaviors of a true social business

463434385Social media has changed the way we consume and interact with information. It’s not just a change in the way we write and read using short bursts of information that match our attention spans. It’s also a change in the way we interact with brands online.

Consumers want to understand, from a storytelling perspective, the value a brand might bring to them. They’re not interested in getting pummeled with white papers and marketing materials alone. Instead, they’re interested in putting together their own story of what a company means to them, and sometimes even telling a piece of that story themselves.

What does this mean for brands? And how are we seeing it play out? It means that brands have to change the way they operate online, especially in the five areas I’ll cover here. 

1. Look at how you’re trending on social media channels

Social media gives you a daily pulse on how well your corporate values are perceived by people outside your organization. It offers an opportunity to react and change direction based on customer feedback. This represents the opportunity to tap into a focus group 24x7.

We ought to be paying attention. And we should be able to adjust our marketing mix and our messages in reaction to what we read, as opposed to launching marketing programs that are locked and loaded with very little opportunity for change.

2. Implement a monitoring and response plan

What are you doing in real time to respond on social media? Are you answering questions online? Sharing content that your audience asks for? Responding to requests for new features in your products? It’s not just about listening to what people are saying on Twitter. It’s also about responding quickly – and making sure the answers are coming from people in your organization with the domain knowledge to respond. You can’t expect an intern to answer complex questions about your products. Only the engineers and product managers can do that, so they need to be responding too.

3. Integrate social media into the fiber of the company

The future is having social media more deeply ingrained in more aspects within an organization, not just in the marketing function. I ought to be able to walk down the hallway at SAS and find anyone in Product Marketing or R&D and ask, “What did you see on social media today?” and not have them say, “Uhhhhhh ...”

As we look to build more of a social media culture at SAS, we’ve looked at everything from training to hiring practices. We ask, do we have people in place in every department who are embracing social media, and understand what it means and can put it into practice? Are we committed to keeping those people current?

During new employee orientation, for example, we don’t just say, “Here’s your badge, your phone, your desk and your computer.” Instead, we say, “Here’s our brand values, and here’s how you can participate with the external community.”

4. Loosen your standards around your brand image online

This is hard, but you have to let go of the fear of what people might say. When social media first became popular, people created all kinds of standards. Employees were told not to expose anything about the company or give anyone an opportunity to say something bad. Now, we’re more open. Brands are asking for feedback, and they’re open to hearing the good and the bad.

You need somebody who can establish standards and set guidelines so nobody strays too far off brand. At same time, the beauty of social media is trusting employees to represent your brand and let them loose. If you have the right people in place, you should give them leeway to participate.

It's important not to overreact to negative comments from critics who are often just looking for a reaction. We have some very loyal employees at SAS. If somebody sees something negative on social, people want to react, but you have to let these things play out. More often than not, the community will self-moderate, and your customer champions will come to your defense.

5. Develop a closed loop measurement system for social media

The marketer’s role has changed significantly in last five to seven years, and not just from a social media perspective – but from a digital and analytics perspective overall. Marketing has become much more of a science and less of what the Mad Men TV series portrays, where creative people drank scotch, scratched their heads and magically had an ad campaign.

Today, you can’t survive as a marketer without an understanding of technology, digital channels, social media – and how can you quantify it all. If you look at where we’re headed, a few organizations get it. A lot of organizations know it. But only a few have really put it into practice in a closed loop fashion. The brands that get it understand that social media is not just about listening and tweeting but also about measuring the impact of communications out in the market and then, based on that impact, refining how you communicate and how you do your business. If you can get that right, you will be a truly social organization.

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Big data benefits in the news

In my last post, I talked about big data blunders in the news. Today’s post is its opposite. It’s only fair to follow up that negative post with some positive stories about big data projects that offer real benefits to society.

There are many, many examples of big data being used for good in the world, but I’m sharing just a few recent favorites I’ve come across. These examples show how big data is being used to improve the world around us in big and small ways.

Big data predicts global conflicts: A researcher from Georgetown University has designed an open source tool that stores global event data and news stories since 1979. Predictive models applied to this data can detect when and where new conflicts might arise. 

Big data for cancer research: The Project Data Sphere initiative is an open data project that combines clincal trial data from multiple pharmaceutical companies to give researchers more insight into different therapies.  More than 10 companies are expected to participate, with a focus on open collaboration and discovering new cancer treatments.

Big data illuminates our understanding of the world: The Kaggle contest site has launched a new competition to analyze data from the ATLAS Experiment. The goal is to find new methods to identify the presence of Higgs Boson particles in millions of simulated collisions. You don’t have to be a particle physicist to play along … just an analyst with an idea or two. 

Big data assists with disaster recovery: In the Philippines, relief workers for the International Organization for Migration combined data from hundreds of displacement sites with public data sources, including social media data, to visualize and prioritize where to send assistance and aid.  As part of the project, text analyses of tweets indicated where aid was needed, what sites already had relief workers, and what specific items were needed most.

Big data eradicates pests: Scientists at Brigham Young University are simulating the locations of tsetse flies to help control efforts to eradicate the pests. Meanwhile, city officials in Chicago are using big data to prioritize efforts for exterminating rats in the city. Similar projects could be used to stop the spread of disease carrying creatures around the world.

A common thread you’ll notice in these stories is the use of open data or public data sources, which is where I see a lot of potential in the use of big data. Whether it’s telecom companies combing customer data to create more targeted offers or pharmaceutical companies combining data to develop cancer drugs faster, the point is that we can all see the benefits when data is shared responsibly.

What are your favorite stories about big data or open data being used to benefit society?

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Helping the academic community build an analytics army

For those of you who are classic rock fans, you may remember Alice Cooper’s title track “School’s Out for Summer” on the album “School’s Out.” That song captures students’ excitement of a taking a hiatus from the classroom. But for professors, summer is a time to continue their own education and gear up for the next semester.

As I mentioned in my last post about analytic talent, SAS is doing its part to address this need through a multi-pronged educational approach - including our latest Analytics U initiative, to bring SAS analytics into the hands of students, professors, and researchers. As part of that program, we are committed to not only provide free software, but also offer free summer workshops to help professors integrate the latest analytical techniques into their curricula.

Higher education connections
SAS has a long history with the academic community, starting as a project at North Carolina State University in the 1960s. So because of our roots, we understand the important role universities have in establishing the vital foundation of knowledge and experiences valued in today’s information economy. That’s why we are doing everything we can to facilitate the transfer of analytics knowledge in formats that make it as easy and headache-free as possible to professors.

Free data mining training for professors
Just a couple of weeks ago, we hosted a data mining workshop for a 110 professors from across the US. It was the biggest turnout in the 12-year history of this event. Our goal was to provide focused training on technology that they could quickly incorporate into their classes. We were extremely delighted with the turnout from more than 110 professors across the US at our Cary headquarters.

As is depicted in the video below, I am encouraged from the feedback we received from some of the attendees. I want to share a couple of them.

 

Frank Alt, Professor at University of Maryland at College Park, said, “For me to teach my students, I have to be on the cutting edge. SAS is putting me right on that frontier. I feel privileged to be here and take advantage of what SAS is offering.”

And recent feedback from Philip Ramsey, a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New Hampshire expressed the following, “I am writing to you to thank all of you and the SAS Institute for holding this event and to let you know that I found the workshop outstanding … My only complaint is that I wish the class had been 5 days instead of 3. For me personally the class was great fun and very educational.”

This feedback tells me that we are moving in the right direction to give professors the tools they need to integrate analytics training into their curricula. Their enthusiasm for analytics is exactly what we want to see transferred to their students.

Our long-term commitment to education
I’m also very proud of our collaborative efforts to build a strong contingent of analytics-savvy college graduates. We are serious about continuing to improve our outreach and stand by our pledge to work closely with academics to produce a robust pipeline of graduates who understand the value of analytics and are unafraid to apply it. I’m constantly encouraging our SAS employees to spread the word about our educational efforts.

I also want to ask those of you in the academic community to keep us informed of your needs and how we can support your efforts further. Together, our collaboration has limitless potential to produce a SAS army ready to conquer the data challenges ahead.

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Energized about energy

I’ve been told I have rocks for brains before, but right now I have rocks on the brain – the kind that are millions of years old and contain precious stores of oil and gas.

Rocks4Brains

One reason I have petroleum on my mind is that I’ve just returned from Brazil, where the oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to the economy. Naturally, discussions around high-performance analytics and energy figured prominently in my meetings – that is, when we weren’t talking FIFA World Cup.

Another reason I’m energized about the topic is a recent glowing endorsement from Petrobras. The Brazilian energy giant has its sights set on total resource recovery – the ability to leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding and recovering oil and gas resources. To get there, they’re using SAS® Analytics to optimize the placement of wells and extend the life of mature fields.

And it’s working. Their senior geologist recently called SAS “100 percent reliable.” Now that’s a testimonial!

Companies like Petrobras need that kind of accuracy because they’re investing billions in their projects. They have to make smart decisions about where to look – and where not to look. When they get it right, the rewards are substantial. On average, Petrobras fields are producing 230,000 more barrels per day after using SAS.

That kind of success makes me happy. Wanting to learn more, I picked up Keith Holdaway’s new book, Harness Oil and Gas Big Data with Analytics. Among other things, it covers how geophysicists, geologists and petroleum engineers can come to view data as not a burden but a blessing – one that opens up entirely new vistas for the industry. Part of the reason the US recently overtook Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of energy resources (namely gas) is that sources that had been nearly impossible to find or use are becoming much more accessible, thanks to the power of analytics.

But it isn’t just about finding oil and gas. It’s also about keeping the equipment running to pull the “black gold” out of the ground and get it on the path to consumers.

For example, steam-assisted gravity drainage is a revolutionary approach to extracting heavy and highly viscous oil from the ground. This horizontal drilling method works by using steam, gas and pressure levels that are optimized with analytical models. Analytics can also determine the optimal operational parameters that enable more efficient drilling and avoid costly downtime. Math plus heavy machinery: What’s cooler than that?

Analytics is also helping keep the industry safe. Predictive models allow engineers to see trouble brewing in pumps or refineries and address issues before they interfere with production. For example, Shell Exploration and Production is using SAS® Predictive Asset Maintenance to extend the lifespan of their equipment and prevent accidents. When the software alerts signal a performance problem, Shell can act quickly to prevent an upset.

The time and money saved allows Shell to do more exploration. (Learn more.)

From upstream exploration and production to the downstream applications of refining, logistics and retail, my friends in petroleum are getting smarter all the time about how to find the resource and get it into the tanks of consumers.

And I’m proud to say they’re doing it with the help of advanced analytics.


To learn more about the application of analytics to the oil and gas industry, read the SAS white paper.

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Big data blunders in the news

Facebook’s mood manipulation experiment is the latest big data blunder in the news. In 2012, the social networking site altered news feeds for thousands of users to display primarily positive or negative posts – and then watched to see if users’ posts reflected what they were seeing in their feeds.

I’m sure that most businesses go into these types of programs with good intentions – but the concerns of individuals about their privacy cannot be overlooked. The issues of data security and consumer privacy protection are age old problems that existed with small data too. With big data, however, we’re affecting a much larger population. The risk is greater, but if you can get the balance right, the rewards – for individuals and society - can be greater too.

What could businesses do differently to make their programs more successful?

  1. Make programs available only for those that opt in. If Facebook had said, “Do you want to take part in research projects to help us improve our experience with you?” plenty of people would have agreed to participate. Up front permission also means the results can be shared more openly, and the community feels invested enough to share the results and offer ideas on how to use the data to benefit users.
  2. Provide clear benefits to consumers. Research consistently shows that consumers are willing to share data if they receive something in return. The benefits could be discounts, improved personalization, service enhancements or even larger benefits to society. The catch is that you can’t just promise these things. Consumers have to experience the benefits themselves, or they will opt out of the service later.
  3. Communicate the purpose and limitations of the program. If businesses can present big data programs in a way that makes the benefits clear to shopper or users, then they will be embraced. Program limitations should also be explained up front in simple language so consumers know what to expect.

From providing better service bundles and offering relevant discounts to bringing new drugs to market and predicting economic trends, big data has the potential to provide many benefits. The majority of these programs should be about improving consumers’ experiences or improving society.

I’d love to see a news cycle that focuses on the benefits of big data, not just the blunders. If organizations focus on the three steps above, I’m confident we’ll be reading more and more of those types of positive stories, and we’ll all see benefits as a result.

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