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Hundreds Attend the Florida Business Analytics Forum to Hear the Latest Developments in Data Collection, Analytics and Creativity

By Keith Morelli

TAMPA (April 4, 2017) -- The mantra that data never sleeps was hammered home during the inaugural Florida Business Analytics Forum at the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business on Tuesday.

Guest speakers came from across the nation to address a crowd of more than 250 who packed the atrium at the Muma College of Business. They came to hear the pioneers in data collection, research, analytics and creativity, themes the college has undertaken in many of its courses. It's a field of study that is emerging as a driving force in the corporate world and has been undertaken by the faculty here, which has achieved a national level of recognition for its research along these lines.

"Technology is allowing us to increasingly base our decisions on a variety of valuable data, which is collected in a myriad of different ways," said USF President Judy Genshaft in her welcoming remarks. "Data, as some people say, never sleeps. Nevertheless, having more information is only helpful if we understand how to analyze it and apply it in meaningful ways.  That is what this forum is all about.

"Today's forum has brought together true leaders in analytics – considered the best in the world – who will inform and excite you about analytics-driven innovation."

Analytics ruled the day, as each speaker laid out the importance of this ever-evolving science that may be on the verge of changing the way businesses market their products to the consumer.

"Analytics are a key focus area for this college," said Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem. "We have faculty who are experts in business intelligence, decision sciences and information systems, of course, but we do more than house a lot of really smart professors.

"We teach students to use that data to shape their ideas, to come up with creative solutions to business challenges, to defend their decisions," he said. "And we are doing so in a way that bridges the gap between academia and industry, through practice center projects, certificate programs and other training options."

The keynote speaker, Ron Kohavi, works with Microsoft and said his company constantly bases experiments on data analytics as a way to improve the product and bump revenue. He said little tweaks here and there can result in tens of millions of dollars in boosted profits.

Kohavi, considered the guru of modern data analytics and who is widely recognized for revolutionizing online testing platforms, is a preeminent authority on data and analytics and the retrieval of pertinent statistics.

"I am shocked at how good we are in coming up with new ideas," he said. Microsoft is considered one of the leaders in data analytics, but it takes failures to learn anything, he said. Failures happen about a third of the time as do successes. The other third: a flat no change.

"We do about 300 experiments a week in Bing, MSN and Microsoft Office," he said. "A single treatment is exposed to millions of users, sometimes tens of millions."

Still, data analytics can be tricky.

"The best data scientists are skeptics," he said. "Any figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong."

The audience included cutting edge business leaders, corporate executives and invited faculty from across the nation all of whom are learning new ways on which to base decisions that can make or break the bottom line. Data, they were told, grows exponentially with Internet browsing and purchasing, social media engagement, GPS traffic and health and business transactions that generate massive amounts of data; data that can be mined and used to make strategic business decisions that can mean the difference between plummeting revenues or untold success.

Khanh Luc, a lead technician with Jabil, said she has taken data science classes at USF and will take some new ideas from the forum back with her to Jabil.

"This is the first data analytics forum for me," she said.

Heather Cole, president of Lodestar Solutions, a company that helps businesses understand data analytics and how it can help increase revenue, is no stranger to the field of study.

"But the next step," she said, "is how the heck do I deliver this data to businesses? Even small businesses can benefit from this.

"But this forum," she said, "was awesome."

The forum featured Raghav Madhavan, managing director and chief data scientist for UBS Financial Services in New York, and Omar Besbes, associate professor at Columbia University's business school. Their presentations showcased the culture of analytics-driven innovation and put on display USF's reputation in the state, the nation and the world as one of the leading universities in big data and analytics research.

Industry observers agree that without the right data, business leaders are simply people with uninformed opinions. Big data holds important implications for businesses of all sizes and types. According to software giant Domo: Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content, Google receives over 2 million search queries and consumers spend $272,070 on web shopping each minute and within these numbers lies clues that can bump profits. Business leaders are beginning to learn that paying attention to such data can help them make informed decisions affecting the directions of their corporations.

Other presenters at the forum were Tracy Bell, senior vice president of enterprise media monitoring at the Bank of America; Joe Kwo, chief information officer at Fintech, Jim Stikeleather, USF Trustee who has written about data and analytics for the Harvard Business Review and Brian Fuhrer, senior vice president of product leadership for Nielsen.

Balaji Padmanabhan, a professor with the college's Information Systems Decision Sciences department and director of the Muma Center for Analytics and Creativity, along with Wolfgang Jank and Tim Heath put together the event.

"We want this to be an idea generator for your businesses," Padmanabhan told the audience.