SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview: Derek Loranca
|The SAP Mentor Spotlight Interview Series highlights key strategic topics, such as emerging technologies, learning, and other topics, and provides insights from Mentors and SAP leaders on turning ideas into innovative approaches that impact people, process, and technology.|
With business analytics, individuals and organizations are in the best position to succeed when they gain value from data to drive improvements both internally and for their customers. It’s important for IT and non-IT employees and stakeholders to look holistically at the entire use case.
Getting deeper on business analytics has been a long-time passion of SAP Mentor, Derek Loranca, who has a track-record of helping colleagues, peers, community members, and students gain insights into how to uncover and act on real-time data.
To find out more about his expertise and experiences, I had the opportunity to catch up with Derek and ask him a wide range of questions including learning about his community service as a firefighter.
Allie Trzaska (AT): How did your career journey starting from La Salle University and Temple University inspire you towards becoming a firefighter and your current position at Aetna?
Derek Loranca (DL): Originally a History major, I switched to Management Information Systems to ensure I was able to start a career right out of college. As a first-generation college student, it was important to me to not burden my parents with student debt. I sought my master’s degrees while working full-time, because I was interested in the blend of healthcare and data, and utilizing those skills every day while architecting analytics solutions. I served as volunteer firefighter for over 10 years. Originally, I volunteered thinking of it as an ‘unscheduled activity’, when it is a calling for a dedicated few and a way to serve your community for all.
AT: What do you enjoy most about coordinating SAP Inside Tracks and community events? What are some examples of grassroots community activities that you have participated in?
DL: The best part of Inside Tracks is the true community nature: content created and sourced by the community. At SITNYC (SAP Inside Track New York City) and SITNSQ (SAP Inside Track Newtown Square), we make sure to select content that’s a bit ‘out of the box’ by your standard SAP and ASUG selection committees. Some of the most interesting content has come from these kinds of sessions. And sometimes you just get a technical wizard, such as SAP Champion: John Astill, who wants to demo a homegrown Raspberry Pi controller for his Anki RC cars. It’s worth breaking up the deeper SAP content with some fun technology showcases. In my not-so-humble opinion, enthusiastic engagement springs from variety.
AT: What made you want to be an SAP Mentor? What has this experience been like for you?
DL: I was lucky to have been introduced to the program just when it made its move from SDN (SAP Developer Network) to SCN (SAP Community Network) and was looking for folks who loved sharing their knowledge with others. I loved presenting sessions at Inside Tracks and ASUG and eventually being able to plan them! I always hoped to participate and was thrilled when I was nominated and then ultimately selected. Like anything in life, there have been highs and lows, but I love seeing the community come together at events like ASUG Annual Conference or SAP TechEd (yes, even virtually). I value any impact I might have made for the community and fellow customers. The best part of the experience are the dear friends that I have made through the program.
AT: Leading a Business Intelligence Center of Excellence, you have a wide range of responsibilities like implementing, adopting, and evangelizing to the entire enterprise. What are a few guiding principles that you consider when adding value for users and leaders so that they have access to important information?
DL: It always starts with ‘right tool, right job’. Modern analytics tools, along with the accompanying data can bring deeper insights. But a data exploration tool isn’t a reporting tool, and that reporting tool isn’t a visualization tool. People need to look holistically at their entire use case and not focus on a single tool. Only by looking at the full landscape, will the data be able drive the right tool for that job. There’s a reason why there’s never been ‘one tool to rule them all’. (Excel doesn’t count!)
AT: When you evangelize the adoption and use of Business Intelligence and Analytics tools, what are ways that you help users get more actionable real-time insights? For example, do you encourage them to embed BI into their processes?
DL: Absolutely! There’s one specific thing that I believe benefits every organization: collaboration tools. With the pandemic requiring the full power of remote work, tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams have skyrocketed to a prominent spot in our workflows. These tools really encourage folks to work with analytics and more importantly, discuss what they’re seeing in them. I have been thrilled to see these collaboration tools being used as a primary delivery and discussion mechanism for dashboard and reports. Moving these actions out of email allows for rapid discussion and actionable decisions- especially on mobile. And given the speed and pace of today’s business, faster is the standard.
AT: What’s your view of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other intelligent technologies to power BI and analytic tools to help analyze the past, present, and future?
DL: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies are going to become more and more mainstream with applications related to and outside of BI and analytics. Even now, users are implementing simpler AI features like ‘Ask a Question’ modules in their dashboards to help speed their analysis. Honestly, I love the ‘Ask a Question’ use case a lot. Letting the AI help guide your data search parameters seemed out of reach in the nascent days of BI, but today’s modern (cloud-enhanced) tools can help unlock insights at a much faster pace. And oftentimes, with more depth of data available for analysis.
AT: As a university student mentor outside of work, what suggestions do you have for students and recent graduates who are interested in a BI-related career? What can they do to gain traction in the job market?
DL: Today’s interested analytics students have so many options to enhance their analytics skills. There are concentrated bachelor’s degrees with business systems and analytics, alongside the meteoric rise in data science degree programs. If students want to add skills alongside their current degrees, a minor or certificate program are great ways to show your analytics chops.
Networking is still key, so finding and participating in community-centric data events (like hackathons or user group meetings) allows students to meet and greet with professionals. If you are a student at an SAP University Alliance school, investigate what your institution has to offer. For example, Penn State University has had several students local to the SAP Newtown Square office attend the ASUG Philadelphia Chapter Meetings and SAP Inside Tracks. (Full disclosure: I am an Adjunct Instructor at Penn State, so I might be a bit biased.)
Follow Derek in the SAP Community here: Derek Loranca