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Data Conversation is a Highlight to RVA Tech Week

Data Conversation is a Highlight to RVA Tech Week

Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe and City of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney kicked the week off on Monday morning, and the excitement continued at the first official luncheon of Tech Week, at Pasture Restaurant, in Richmond.  “Data is Beautiful” was the theme, and a moderated discussion ensued with two representatives from Altria: Charles Tango and Ian Tyndall.  The two IT experts from this data-rich company detailed how the use of data has changed in recent years.  Below is a summary of their conversation.

How has data collection, usage and storage changed?
There has been an increasing emphasis on personalizing data. Even millennials are more willing to provide personal data if they can get a better, personalized experience.  Privacy is valued by everyone, but younger people are more liberal with how they conceive of private data and they view the sharing of personal information differently than their parents.  This is important and a challenge for businesses like an Altria, who have customers that span many different generations.  Global and cultural differences further exacerbate the complexities of data personalization.

How do businesses like Altria figure out what data to use?
Altria has a defined IT governance, with rigorous vetting of business ideas tied to data.  Most of their new business strategies are hypothesis driven, not just the result of broadly collecting data or generally looking for trends to emerge on their own.  They start with some specific ideas and testing. They also look at how other businesses could disrupt their ideas and impact the bottom line.   They use strategic three-year plans, with an annual review process, which ties into an overarching ten-year concept.

What do you look for when hiring people to work with data?
Altria wants people who can understand data and make informed decisions; this is a difficult skill set to fill.  Businesses like Altria, and likely yours, need the right skill set and mindset, in addition to learning the applications used in the analysis of data.  Beyond the technical, there is a need for leadership skills, and extensive communication skills.  The expectation is that your responsibilities will grow over time when you work at Altria, so the need for the soft and hard skills are critical.  Tech skills are trending and programs like Microsoft Excel are here to stay because they are necessary for day-to-day business success.

Machine learning and analyzing data.  When will the tech be able to help us make thoughtful decisions?
There are lots of packages that can help you visualize data, but there is an art to being able to understand data well in YOUR business context.  This is hard to bridge in any industry.  Machine learning has a potential to really help with this down the road.  Imagine technology that could tell you this each day: “Here are the three things you can do today to move your business forward.”  Once machine learning can do that, it will really come into its own.  Bottom Line: Let’s stop producing reports and work to create actionable data.  Software today doesn’t really do this.  But it will!

Are the relationships between business folks and the IT folks a problem? 
Businesses have a hard time understanding what IT people do. The IT professional must have an entrepreneurial, project management mindset.  While it’s not a simple task,  it was suggested that IT people need to be able to explain what they do with a unique story for leadership and peers.

What is exciting or going to happen in the next five years? 
There is excitement about block chain technology, as there is an opportunity to streamline supply chain interactions, and possibly benefit the consumer side of the market. There are also growing trends in security that may alter the future cyber world.

Are you looking to improve your data analysis or soft skills?  Check out these classes:


This post was written by CCWA’s IT Director and frequent attendee of RVA Tech Week sessions, Dr. Nick Langlie.

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