Through analysis and visualization of data, Dr. Jose Ramirez-Marquez is helping enterprises understand and monitor their public perception, as well as keep their systems resilient
Dr. Ramirez-Marquez, associate professor, division director of enterprise science and engineering, discusses his research into infrastructure resilience and the development of enterprises, gauging public perception and overall experience of systems via data analytics, the challenges of working with data and projects his graduate and doctoral students are working on.
What are some of your latest systems analytics-related research projects?
We have one project called Resilience Analytics funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation), where we’re looking at how different threats might affect infrastructure and the relationship that systems infrastructure has to citizens.
Another project we're working on is with the Academy of Finland, which is called Project Value Now. It is related to identifying threats that might affect the development of enterprises. In terms of resilience, these threats would be something like how different technologies develop or don’t develop in the future, and how they relate to the health of these enterprises. You can look at it in terms of how a group of technologies might be interchanged for a business using them, or a new technique or application, and how that's related to the resilience of the system.
What these research projects entail is looking at visualization techniques that allow us to trace different entities through time – sort of a time-based visual statistic. We want to trace how something is evolving, or evolved, and figure out if there will be a change, and how we can make the system more resilient to it.
Can you give an example of how data visualization might affect a business?
Data visualization is a great way to uncover problems. Uber is a great example. Uber constantly has different problems that, for example, maybe the drivers are not happy. Based on those drivers, the customers might not be happy. So, what is the effect of that on the company and on their future?
Another example of how we used data viz is when the Samsung Note 7 phones started exploding in customers’ hands in 2017. When we look at this particular case, we want to pull data from sources like social media, from blogs and from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address how this disrupts the company. This data tells you what the social perception is, and then the company has to ask themselves what to do to bring it back to where they want it to be based on this information.
Can you give an example of how data visualization might affect a city?
How the trains run and the quality of their service, for example, but from the perspective of the owner of the service. Take the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in this instance. From the perspective of the MTA, they have specific internal metrics that describe the quality of their service. These metrics may not be related to what the customer is experiencing because they're reflecting what the MTA believes is the quality of their experience. Based on social media, we can see how these two different things come together. Is the quality of service that the owners feel is good the same as what the customers want and are experiencing.
For example, the MTA might see the trains are 99 percent on time, and from their perspective the service is great. But from the customer's perspective, they might say the trains are always on time but they're always full to the point where you can’t get on. So there's a disconnect between the customer and the owners, and we identify those issues and make the recommendations of what can be done.
What makes systems analytics critical to an enterprise?
When we're looking at products, like the Samsung Note 7, we look at that product and its overall infrastructure as a system. This infrastructure includes its marketing, its sustainment, its user experience – we look at it as a whole system. This is why systems analytics is so important. Whatever you can apply to a system, you can apply to a product to improve it or maintain it. If a problem arises with any part of the infrastructure in dealing with a product, then I can analyze what is happening and what the public perception is to properly handle the issue. The people who will tell me there's a problem with my product above all are my customers, so I'm effectively using the customers as sensors.
Are there any major challenges in systems analytics?
One major challenge is getting data. Data is all over the place, but actually obtaining the data and executing on it can be a challenge. At the corporation level, a lot of the data is held because of how the business is run. There are business implications in sharing data and sometimes they don't want to share it. We always try to find a workaround, but in some cases it's impossible.
How involved are students in your research?
One of my Ph.D. students is working on the quality of service versus the quality of experience problem. Another one of my doctoral students is looking at the identity of cities and how that reflects in their citizens and in tourists, where in this case the system is the city.
On the master's level, it's part of the SYS 800 Special Problems in Systems Engineering class. Last year we had a student that was working on some analytics to identify disparities in the use of lawyers by different economic classes. People who don't have access to economic resources, if they commit some type of infraction, it's difficult for them to get a lawyer. They don't know what kind of lawyer to get, so their chances of getting a good representation of much lawyer. So he worked on those statistics and data.
What sets the School of Systems and Enterprises apart from other schools in the data analytics research field?
There is no other program like ours in terms of the curriculum, which includes systems analyses, analytics which includes machine learning, data visualization, network analysis; and the projects the students can get involved in are pretty in-depth and teach them a lot. At the master's level, you really don't have that offered outside of Stevens.