Monday, April 21, 2014

On vacation with Big Data

According to recent statistics more than 90% of people in the USA spend their days within 30 miles of their home location. They define their daily circles around things they know and are familiar to them: their neighborhood, schools, shops, etc. We are all creatures of habit: chances are that what you do on a typically Monday will be repeated week after week with little variation until you go on vacation. Vacations are truly events of consequence because it is one of the few occasions where people disrupt their routine, it is quite common while on vacation for people to travel more than 30 miles from their home location, either by car, planes, boat or any other transportation method. While on vacation a person is away from the familiar and he/she is probably more open to visit new places, try new food, meet new people or just wander around.

If you think about, this is the perfect opportunity for an external party to influence you, your guard is relaxed and you want to have fun and experience new things. Hospitality companies are aware of this and are starting to use Big Data technologies to make sure you have the “best experience away from home” (alas it does not hurt if this “best experience” puts more money in the hospitality company pocket). Let us explore how Big Data is directing your experience.

Big data influence in your trip starts way before you book your trip. In fact, most hospitality companies today use advanced analytics to drive their marketing campaigns to match their offering/properties to customers/prospects interests and preferences. There is a probably a digital trail that you have created in any (and maybe all) of your previous trips. This digital cookie gives enough information to the hospitality companies to target you on a way where you are most likely to respond.

Once you have decided to stay at a particular property and book the trip, Big Data technologies are used to present you with “bundles” or “packages” that enhance your experience. It can be a combination of car plus your room, or include meals or events. The beauty of Big Data is that regardless if you select, ignore or reject the offering the hospitality industry keeps learning more and more about you and how you react to specific offerings.

When you check-in into the property, the Big Data analytics engine is right there with you; depending on your history with the company, management might offer you an upgrade or just recommend things for you to do around. Keep in mind that the hospitality company will try to entice you to stay longer at the property and consume their services rather than leaving the premises and risk you spending your hard earned dollars with the competition.

So next time you go on vacation, don’t be surprised if you find yourself trying a new experience that you would have never tried at home. After all you are on vacation with Big Data and it is up to you if you bring it back home with you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Big Data and HR: when analytics become personal

We live in the Code Halos age where everything that we do, every interaction that we have- positive or negative - generates data that lives somewhere in the “cloud”. No matter your age, there is probably a digital trail that you have left behind, data about you starts generating even before you are born. In fact there are many studies that capture data about the development of a baby while still in her mother’s uterus. But what does this mean for us? If it is a good or a bad thing that all this data exists and more importantly persists as we are born and grow up? More importantly, how does this affect our ability to get a job, create a company or participate in public events? This blog will attempt to answer this question by putting it in the context of a real scenario given to me by one of my customers.

This customer is a national retail chain that operates over 8,500 stores and employs over 185,000 associates. This company HR department probably interviews hundreds of candidates a day which costs the company thousands of dollars in people’s time; not to mention that while they have been refining and maturing their interview process it is still not a 100% accurate and bad hires still get through sometimes. What if rather than an elaborate interview process which astute candidates can manipulate, the company implemented a big data system that could process all the information in existence for a particular candidate. All the records since that person got in the “system” would be made available to an engine that would recommend the right candidate(s) for a particular role. Not only that the system would be able to predict (with a high degree of accuracy), how well that person would do on the role, when that person would get promoted, identify the highest position that person would probably occupy through their career in the company and more importantly identify the likelihood of retaining that person in the company the right time to achieve his/her maximum potential.

Is this real or a product of a very imaginative science fiction mind? Before we decide to answer this, let us explore other areas that deal with the very core of what is to be human: spouse selection. Did you know that about 25% of all marriages in the USA started online? In fact there have been scientific studies that concluded that people who met online are happier than people than met a traditional way (through friends, work, etc.). I myself did not believe this until I attended an analytics conference where the chief data scientist from eHarmony gave a presentation and he explained that when you meet in person for the first time, our instincts hone-in primarily in looks which while might lead to temporary satisfaction of being with an attractive person from the opposite sex. However this physical attraction does not necessarily lead to a relationship success in the long run because of potential misalignment in key areas (e.g. career goals, way to raise the kids, etc.). He explained that the online matching industry has developed a set of personality tests that are extremely difficult for someone to fake and once this information is in their systems, they can effectively use it to populate the analytical models that will look for long term compatibility as the primary criteria for matching.

So going back to our original question if big data can provide better results in HR than a face-2-face interview, I argue that not only it can but it will. If something as complex and personal as meeting the right person that will become your spouse is now in the hands of a big data algorithm, it is just a matter of time before big data does the same for your next job interview.