By Samuel Greengard
As president of Pfizer Latin America and a member of the Committee of 200, a group that advances women’s leadership in business, Adele Gulfo has a unique perspective on IT and believes that big data will play an increasingly important role in defining business and the enterprise.
Here’s how she sees things playing out and what IT executives should focus on:
Baseline: What are your general thoughts about big data and where it’s headed?
Gulfo: Big data is revolutionary more than evolutionary. Unfortunately, traditional analytics tools are no longer viable because data is so ubiquitous, vast and complex. There’s a need to boil things down. It’s about identifying actionable insights by collecting and gathering data from different sources.
Baseline: What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges?
Gulfo: Big data is like renewable energy. It’s continuous and it never runs out. There are amazing answers locked away in all the data, but the problem is that it’s easy to wind up drowning in it. Big data is only as useful as our ability to analyze it and extract information and insights.
Baseline: How are you applying big data in health care?
Gulfo: The sheer volume of new information being generated about medicine and genomics research is astounding. No doctor could keep up with all of it. We need super computers like [IBM’s] Watson and powerful tools.
The goal is to create more personalized medicine. It’s to better understand genotypes and how different pharmaceutical drugs interact with different patient populations and subgroups; how genetic mutations and other variables impact efficacy; and how different events impact the use of drugs. The better we understand patients, the better we can design drugs and therapies.
Baseline: Beyond the pharmaceutical and health care fields, where do you see big data having an impact?
Gulfo: If you’re in the packaged goods business or the consumer goods business, the goal is to connect to your customers and create ongoing engagement through loyalty. People aren’t likely to think about whether your product is slightly better or worse than a competitor’s if they have a strong relationship with your company. The technology makes it possible to personalize marketing and create an entirely different model for engagement.
Baseline: Can you provide an example of the innovative use of big data?
Gulfo: A major department store is experimenting with video cameras that track customers as they wander through the store. Do they stop in front of the lingerie department or the makeup department? Do they quickly move to the sale rack? What is the flow of traffic?
That makes it possible to understand behavior and buying patterns in entirely new ways. This impacts everything from store design to promotions.
Baseline: What is your advice to business and IT executives?
Gulfo: No matter what business you are in, you need to be thinking about big data. These types of insights are radically changing the business world, and the ripples are being felt everywhere.
But success doesn’t just happen. It’s important to step back and ask “what if” questions. It requires some creativity and IT people who can think in more innovative ways. There are remarkable opportunities for those that can put big data to work.