Press panel: SAS customers prove the value of analytics


Members of the media attending SAS Global Forum met a panel of SAS customers from diverse backgrounds but with a unified message: In uncertain economic times, deploying the power of advanced analytics becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. Panelists included:

  • Aaron Cano, Vice President of Customer Knowledge,
  • Stephan Chase, Vice President of Customer Knowledge, Marriott International
  • William Kahn, former Head of Single Family Credit Analytics at Fannie Mae and former Chief Scoring Officer at Capital One
  • Ming Teng, Director of Analytics, StubHub

Moderator Anne Milley, Director of Technology Product Marketing, led off by asking the panel how analytics are relevant to business in the current climate.

Panelist Ming Teng is Director of Analytics for StubHub, self-described “huge users of data.”

“We don’t have a large shop with lots of statisticians,” Teng said. Using JMP allows them to perform effective data mining around trends and “operationalize” the information.

Stephan Chase, VP of Customer Knowledge for Marriott International, agreed analytics is increasingly relevant. At Marriott they think in terms of “propensity,” or what customers are likely to do. If you put an offer in front of a customer that is more relevant to the customer’s needs, they are more likely to take it. The natural resistance to change and learning is challenged in environments like this one, Chase said, where “survival anxiety” takes over. People are more willing to try new ideas.

He’s noticed a great deal more demand for the services of his department based on its past success, and an increased willingness to experiment.

"We've been at it a while," he said, "showing that predictive modeling is predictive, and if you give customers something more relevant, they will take it."

Aaron Cano is Vice President of Customer Knowledge for His group has used analytics to model new sales promotions. They’ve been so successful that all the entities under the umbrella are approaching him. Cano referred to what he called “trial by fire analytics." The times are changing, he said. If you want to improve and serve customers better you have to try new things, and analytics can make the difference.

Milley asked the panelists to describe the biggest challenges to bringing analytics to bear on fact-based decisions.

StubHub’s business relies on the ability to plan and forecast based on diverse and seemingly unpredictable factors, Teng said, like sports rivalries and matchups, or announcements of major events like a Britney Spears or Jonas Brothers concert. Planning and forecasting requires tracking the rumors for the coming year.

“We can predict seasonal demand,” Teng said, “but we have to take into our forecasting model these somewhat random events.” While it is ultimately rewarding, it can also be challenging. “Analysts are always looking for opportunities among the white noise and adjusting on the fly,” he added.

William Kahn, former Head of Single Family Credit Analytics at Fannie Mae and former Chief Scoring Officer at Capital One, suggested a top-and-bottom approach to explaining the value of analytics within an organization.

People reveal their risk behavior over three to five years, Kahn said, so you can't wait for actual consumer behavior to drive change. You need to influence the “self-actualized layer” in the organization: the kids just coming in who are enthusiastic and open to new ideas, and the senior levels who are able to evaluate proposed changes and act on them swiftly.

The way to change the culture of the organization to be more analytical, according to Cano, is to leverage analytics to change the discussion about what it means to be successful. As more and more evidence points to the value of analytics, he sees it being used in more and more ways at 1-800-FLOWERS.


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