Discovering my Inner Data Scientist and Other Key Revelations
By Fred Isbell, senior director and head of Thought Leadership – Digital Business Services Marketing, SAP
Recently, I went through the process of updating my professional bio for an upcoming event. After rehashing all of my challenging assignments and exciting projects over the years, I still take great pride in my involvement in forming our current understanding of business intelligence with my team at Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) in the early 1990s.
How did I get so lucky to participate in foundational market intelligence and strategy formulation for this groundbreaking concept? Interestingly, it all started in my earlier work for two marketing research, analytics, and modeling consulting firms before I arrived at DEC. At the time, my “day job” was writing SAS and SPSS programs and running the reports. And over many late nights and long weekends, in my “night job” I wrote and delivered the resulting reports to my clients. In retrospect, this was a classic job function that was ahead of its time – even though immature technology was powering sophisticated analysis, the tools were in retrospect rather primitive.
Fast-forward a quarter century later, the technology has finally caught up as Big Data, analytics, predictive analysis, and more reach high demand in mainstream business practices. I now can better relate to my finely honed skill set, which started as an economics student at Yale, refined during my MBA program at Fuqua, and brought to fruition as a consultant in two analytical services groups.
Back then my capabilities were not well-understood nor entirely appreciated back then; but now, modern marketing places data science and data scientist squarely in the spotlight. I saw first-hand several Fuqua MBA students with these skills who were recruited and given premium offers. Even though the market is hot for this talent, my advice to MBA students is that they do not necessarily have to be a data scientist. However, they still need to gain some level of familiarity with the concepts of data science to embrace the growing importance of innovation and the rise of the “Third Platform,” which places data and analytics at the very heart of innovation and digital transformation.
Not only is my beloved Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business supporting this important area, but it also recently announced a new one-year degree program: Masters in Quantitative Studies (MQS), a peer program to existing MBA and MMS programs. Certainly exciting times and proof that data science not only a hot area, but also one that will bring an unprecedented variety of new options in this field.
After hearing this news, I was as always excited to visit the Fuqua campus for a series of events. I spent time with the team running the Information Initiative at Duke (IID), a cross-school initiative designed to be nimble and react quickly to new demand for hot areas of study. Like any great higher-learning institution, Duke and IID has a fair share of collaboration and sharing opportunities. I was thrilled to contribute to the new academic year’s first IID “lunch and learn,” presenting my story of what I do to support the marketing efforts of the Digital Business Services organization at SAP by managing and reporting demand. It was all perfectly timed as my team had just implemented new reporting assets and began the process of educating stakeholders and the extended team on our offerings.
While preparing my presentation for the IID lunch-and-learn session, I had a bit of a revelation. While storytelling is an essential part of modern marketing, my thought leadership work (such as this blog)
requires as much storytelling as the analytics and reporting I deliver every day. The only difference is that I use far more numbers, charts, and graphs in my reports. Just as modern marketing is heavily dependent on science, technology, engineering, and math, it’s both an art and science – and much of the science is fueled by Big Data and analytics.
I decided to further develop this realization and present it as an off-the-cuff comment during my IID session. “Just as we’ve had the very successful ‘XYZ company runs SAP’ in the past, we should have a new campaign with the tagline ‘Modern marketing and analytics run SAP.’ As original as I like to think I am, that’s actually very true. Part of our very successful Live Business campaign includes marketing, which is an important aspect of the marketing and sales solutions that SAP brings to companies around the world.
Besides having a great lunch-and-learn experience (including an awesome chicken sandwich!) with IID, I felt inspired – perhaps even invigorated – by the experience. There’s nothing like stepping out of our offices from time to time and draw inspiration from others. In fact, I can’t wait for the next time an opportunity comes up like this again!
Fred is the senior director and head of Thought Leadership for Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP.