Campus & Community

When it Comes to Big Data, Big Thinking is Critical

Can Big Data really tell Dr. Sandeep Sacheti when your girlfriend will break up with you?

While a study of relationship status data on Facebook indicates you’re most likely to be dumped in the spring and just before Christmas, Dr. Sacheti said such conclusions are why big thinking needs to be a part of Big Data strategy.

Dr. Sacheti’s insights came during an address to a standing-room-only crowd during the Oct. 28 Heath Lecture Series on the Stevens campus.  

“What do you do with this data?” Dr. Sacheti, an executive vice president with Wolters Kluwer, asked the crowd. “Knowing that you have more breakups in the two weeks before Christmas, would you avoid those two weeks? Maybe keep away from your girlfriend?”

When the laughter subsided, Dr. Sacheti had made his point. Data should not just be acted upon — it needs to be thought about first.

“It’s not clear what I would do different knowing all this information, and unless there’s a meaningful impact, you have to ask what the point of all this data is,” he said. “If our idea of success is to create meaningful value for something that matters, then you have to think about this differently.”

Thinking beyond the data

Thinking differently about data has helped Dr. Sacheti make himself distinct during a career in data and finance. Since earning his Ph.D. from University of California – Berkeley, he has earned more than 20 patents in decision science and fraud verification in a distinguished career with American Express and UBS, in addition to his current role at Wolters Kluwer.

In his talk, Dr. Sacheti pushed students to think about data and how it can be used, but also how the data science or business analyst roles they’ll be playing on the job complement the needs of the company.

Five Ways Data is Changing How Leaders Make Decisions

For instance, he encouraged students to emphasize impact by looking for what he called the “multiplier effect.” Many decisions or actions in a company need to be made over and over again in how a firm does business, so even a small improvement to that process, over time, generates huge returns.

“If every single time, that decision is even marginally better because of your analysis and recommendation, the benefits are felt many times,” he said. “So look for problems that are repeated — and those are often the nonsexy problems, like call centers. Who wants to focus improvements around call centers? No one wants to talk about that. But if you find a way to make each call 2 percent more effective, that 2 percent of millions of calls is a huge number.”

The other piece Dr. Sacheti emphasized is timing. While professionals in data analysis tend to be perfectionists, there’s more value in getting a B at the right time than an A a day late.

“At the right time, your recommendation has tremendous value — everyone’s on board, it gets embedded in the company, it drives change,” Dr. Sacheti said.

“If your analysis arrives a day after a decision needs to be made, how valuable is your insight? Negative,” he added. “You’re destroying value.”

The values Dr. Sacheti discussed are at the core of what sets a technology-based business education at Stevens apart. Graduate degrees in Business Intelligence & Analytics, Information Systems and Network & Communication Management & Services emphasize understanding the technology, but also how that technology serves the mission of the enterprise.

“I think a big takeaway for Sandeep’s lecture is just the reinforcement of what the students learn in class — that technology is not going to solve problems for you,” said Dr. Zvi Aronson, coordinator of the Heath series. “Rather, technology creates opportunity for those able to think critically about data and analytics with the perspective of a manager who needs to develop a strategy to accomplish goals and solve problems. What’s more, Dr. Sacheti highlights that big things happen in teams — they’re not just the work of individuals.”

The Heath Lecture Series is named for Stevens alumnus A. Roy Heath, who believed virtues like honesty, loyalty and teamwork are as essential as technical prowess when managing technical enterprises. Speakers in this series exemplify the leadership traits Heath considered crucial for success. For more information, visit stevens.edu/business/heath.

Caption info 
Dr. Sandeep Sacheti addresses a standing-room only crowd of Stevens students and faculty to discuss the need for critical thinking about Big Data. He also spoke about the need for data professionals to have strong business skills, to ensure they can ensure their recommendations are taken seriously by managers and executives.