24 Feb 2014

Big Data and Business Intelligence - Interview

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I set up an interview (my first) with Basel Tujunji founder of AvonDX  (www.avondx.com) to find out more about his business “Business Intelligence” and how to apply it to any company. Below is the question I asked with a summary of Basel’s.



You can listen to the audio file here.

Introduction from Basel

I am the founder of AvonDx, which focuses on business intelligence consultancy in Canada (founded) about a year ago. Before that, I also co-founded another BI company, nPario (www.npario.com). Before that I was, for five years, regional manager for SAS, responsible for the middle east (region). My background in business intelligence I dealt with large corporations trying to move data to BI platforms and we (worked with) many organizations in banking, telecommunication, retail, public sector.

It is a growing field, so I’m excited about this area. I think I am in the right market right now.
It something that is taking off, more data is being collected from customers, and they (companies) want to make sense of the data. So it is the right time to focus on BI.

What is Business Intelligence and does it differ from big data?

Well, Business Intelligence is a methodology, an approach to collect and store the data for analysis. So decision makers can have a better sense of the information when are making decisions, for example, when planning to open a new store. So you need all of the data that gives you the geographic data, spending data, competitor data so you can make that decision. Or you want to launch a new product or a new service, and you have to look at the customer mix, you have to look at the profitability, and have a look at the opportunity - so you need to collect data.

So this is how started to take off in 1989 by Garner. They would go to their customers and tell them, ok you have all this operational data now, what are you going to do with the reporting. It is getting more complicated now because organizations are collecting, even more, data. It used to be only the data that you had in your system when you open an account, but now it is data about your behaviour. For example, how are you using the service. Now there is Social Media data that is a better reflection of your behaviour as a customer, whether you are a happy customer or not. It is more direct, if you are de-satisfied and no longer call the call centre, you just tweet or complain on Facebook. It is more reflective of the market today.

So you use Social Data as well.

Yes, this leads us to big data. So big data is everything to do with a product or customer, because now we have social media data, GIS data, data from using a product. And now customers have several products; if you are with Rogers (cable and telco company from Canada), you have a mobile phone, the internet, business services. It is getting complicated for customers, and they are offering more products for the single client. Plus you have the social media information, so it is important for those large corporations to look at you from that point of view.

What is AvonDx philosophy and approach to BI for business?

Our mission is to turn data into active intelligence; it is a very simple message. So we take data, and turn it into active intelligence, we try to understand how our customers are using the information,  how is the processing of the data taking place and who is using the data; is it the marketing department of the finance department? Then critical question we ask our customers is:  Do you have a single view of the truth? Single view of the fact is essential because if you look at sales as an example; sometimes the marketing department will have specific numbers but the finance department will have different numbers.
So sales for marketing person is what you invoice, for the finance person it is when you collect so there is a gap in this view from a business perspective. We focus on the single view of the truth from the customer perspective when it comes to business decisions. Then we attempt to lay that on data and try to map that to a report that provides an accurate view of the customer so they can make an adequate decision on the organization.

How can business apply business intelligence?

Our customers need to be paranoid; this is the term that Andrew Grove from Intel put it: only the paranoid survive. You have to be paranoid as a customer, because if you are dominant in an industry that doesn’t mean you are safe. Do You need to be on the look out of what is happening in the market, what is going on to your customers, where do your employees stand, what is going on to your products? So if you can gather that information quickly and before anybody else you are ahead of the competition.

We have seen so many organizations that probably had all of the data but never used it to make the right decisions. If you look at telcos ten years ago their primary business was to make money from telephone calls, now they make money from other services and content. So they need to understand the dynamics of the market, so they can offer better products and services to their customers. Each industry is going through different changes, even the public sector, anything that has to do with health or education initiatives, they need to gather the information to better service the citizens.

What kind of business can take advantage of business intelligence?

Every single company that offers services to their customers, but the biggest demand for BI is coming from financial and telecommunication companies. The number one users of BI are banks and telcos; this is how all started. Then it rolled out into the public sector (the health care industry), manufacturing and retail. The first demand developed from the financial sector mainly to better understand the risks of investments or the compliance process to comply with regulations initiatives for fraud and anti-money laundering. Then later it moved to telecommunications for customer service and customer retention.

You need a big amount of data and data mining; you need data scientist and data experts to make sense of the data that is coming. For a telco, for example, we worked with a telco with 20 million customers who had a churn rate (customers leaving) of 2 -3%. If you have 20 million customers, and they have a churning rate of 2 or 3 percent from 20 million that is a large number. They don’t want to lose those customers to the competition, and how do you now who is going to leave? You have to have certain behaviour information. Find the patterns in phone usage, average usage from the past six month declines from 20 minutes to 5 minutes. That’s telling you something that the customer is not happy; he is not using his phone. So before they cancel the service, the company can act and try to retain the customer through new offers, incentives or just ask why.

When we do BI assessment we don’t look just at technology; we see the strategy of the company and human resources ability. Because if you want to do BI well, you need the right people to use the system, even the best software won't help unless the best people use it.

What kind of tools are available?

There are many tools today, six years ago the market was scattered; you would have 20 to 25 suppliers. The market has consolidated, big companies like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP they all acquired the small ones such as Cognos and Business Objects. But there are still options for the customers for the tools.

I think the tools are not that important, what it is important are the methodology and approach. Most clients have the technology; we are working with one customer that had the best technology. It doesn’t mean they are using it because they need to have the whole system, what we call the business intelligence competency centre (BICC). The BICC is the teaming of partners and units to look at business intelligence across the organization, because business intelligence is not only for marketing, finance or sales. It is for the entire organization with the commitment of the IT and business departments.

Can a small business use BI or does it only work for large enterprises?

Small shops can start using BI with small databases and Excel Sheets. It doesn’t have to be advanced tools.  As an example, a restaurant, or dry cleaners or any consumers business can start looking at their business and then start looking at the customers behaviour. Collect the information from the transactions and behaviour and understand more about the client and know more about how to make money as a small business. Most small businesses have a little investment, and they need to have the best return on investment. How do you do this? Offering a better product or service with what you learn from your data.

It is important in this competitive environment that the only way to survive is to understand your customers. And you have to have a presence in social media and on the internet. People like to see a website and reviews of the business they are about to engage.
For small businesses, there are cloud services at affordable prices such as SaleForce (from $20.month) or Google Analytics (free).

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