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Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

“Big data” is a term that occurs regularly in discussions of corporate strategy and analytics, but what is it? “I hate the term ‘big data,’” said Tom Nealand, MBA ’87, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at Southwest Airlines. “You have to get clarity around what those words really mean if you want to develop a successful organizational structure that can take advantage of the information you’re generating.” Nealand spoke recently as part of the University of Dallas’ TIE expert panel series.
The panel discussion, held on March 18, 2016 and entitled “Executive Decision Making: Analyzing Big Data,” drew a large crowd at the University of Dallas’ Satish and Yasmin Gupta School of Business, due in no small part to the credentials of the panel, which also included Aaron Miri, MBA ’10, Chief Information Officer of Walnut Medical Center; Ellen Barker, MBA ’94, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Texas Instruments; and Rhonda Levene, MBA ’89, Former Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Daymon Worldwide. Mark Ryland, Chief Architect, Worldwide Public Sector Team, Amazon Web Services, moderated the panel.
Ryland attributed the tremendous growth in the sheer amount of data available to analyze to a few “megatrends” that have emerged within the tech industry. “First, storage is basically free,” he said. “There’s never any real reason for a company to delete the data they have collected on their customers. Second, the growth of new tools to analyze data has made it possible to handle a lot of information cheaply. And third, these days, just about everything is instrumental and is throwing off data. This means we are accumulating unprecedented amounts of information.”

But how, exactly, could and should a company use these mountains of data to make decisions? Barker explained that three things about big data make the management of it especially complicated. “Because of the internet of things, we are receiving data from an amazing variety of sources,” she said. “The velocity of data has also increased. And data has volatility. Some data is more valuable in the stream and less valuable as time progresses. Because of all these factors, we have to ask, ‘How do we architect our environment to give our business units the data they need?’”

Levene said her previous experience with Coca Cola and Daymon Worldwide helped her see big data from a consumer, brand-building perspective. “Big data becomes really effective for retailers when it creates consumer pull demand versus retailer pushing demand,” she said. “If handled correctly, it helps retailers correlate their next steps.”

For Miri, careful data analysis can have even greater implications. “In healthcare, data analytics is about saving lives,” he said. “If I can analyze how long it takes a patient to get from the ambulance into triage and then shave minutes off of that time, I can have a great impact on patient care.” Miri said even social media platforms can have an impact on hospitals. “We look at every bit of data. For example, we might look at Twitter for news of how the flu is spreading in the DFW area. That helps us prepare for what might be coming,” he said.

The panel also addressed questions from the audience about the ethics of collecting large amounts of data and then correlating it in a way that could threaten an individual’s privacy. The panelists agreed that even so-called anonymous data can be “de-anonymized” if subjected to a fine-grain analysis. Miri explained that the sequencing of the human genome is an example of how detailed healthcare data can both help and harm a potential patient. “If your genome shows you are at risk for cancer, a health insurance company cannot deny you coverage because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But life insurers are not part of those regulations. They can deny coverage based on your genomic risk of getting cancer.” While this may seem troubling to a healthcare consumer, Miri added that these ethical situations should not preclude data analysis within the healthcare industry. “We must use the data to push society to get better. That’s the purpose of technology in healthcare. The question is: will people be willing to give up some privacy in order to achieve the end-game of a healthier society?”

Several members of the audience were also interested in how the panelists view the future of data analytics in their roles as employers. One person asked how he could remain relevant as an employee in an industry that changes every day. Nealon emphasized that to be successful, data analysts must emphasize their business skills. “Your business skills, coupled with strong applied mathematics skills, will make you an asset to an employer,” he said. “You must bring up your business intellect. You want to be known as a business person with tech DNA.”

All panelists agreed that the collection, analysis and protection of data is now an integral part of corporate responsibility and is what they called a “board-level” issue. “Proper data governance is a priority for businesses,” Ryland said. “And these emerging questions about how to use the data have become ethical questions as well.”

TIE stands for Transformation, Innovation and Ethics. It is an expert panel series in which alumni leaders host a discussion on transitions and the future of business. The purpose of TIE is to bring together alumni, administration, students and faculty to discuss a rapidly transitioning world and how to innovate and manage that change in an ethical manner. Find out more by visiting UD’s Alumni website.

Executives on Campus: Julie Weber, Vice President for People, Southwest Airlines

Executives on Campus: Julie Weber, Vice President for People, Southwest Airlines

It’s no accident that Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 43 consecutive years. And it’s not a fluke that Southwest has also been named one of Fortune magazine’s most admired companies for 21 years in a row. According to Julie Weber (BA, ‘91), Vice President for People at Southwest Airlines, it’s because of people. “One hundred percent of our success is because of the people we hire,” she told students in Dr. Richard Peregory’s class on March 2 at the University of Dallas’ Satish & Yasmin Gupta School of Business.

Weber explained Southwest’s philosophy that happy employees make happy customers who, in turn, make happy shareholders. The cornerstone of this philosophy is that employees come first. Weber sited a few statistics to demonstrate the effectiveness of this policy: “We’ve never had layoffs, even after September 11. We are lowest in customer complaints according to the Department of Transportation, and in 2014, Southwest was the number one performing stock on the S&P 500.”

According to Weber, the key to maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce is to hire the right people for the right job. “The first step is you have to know what you’re about,” she said. And what Southwest Airlines is about centers around core values like having a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-loving attitude. “Every single employee understands what it means to live and work the Southwest way. So these core values are part of every job description, from ramp agents to executives.”

Weber’s experienced recruiters take special care to determine whether an applicant exhibits these core values. During interviews, recruiters ask candidates a series of open-ended, behavior-based questions designed to gather examples of how they have responded in a variety of situations. “We’re looking for examples of how you went above and beyond for your customers or your fellow employees,” Weber said.

These behavior-based questions aren’t for front-line employees only. Weber personally interviews every candidate for directors’ positions. “A leader’s job is to serve the team, so it’s especially important that those in leadership positions have a servant’s heart,” she said. “So I might ask a candidate about their team. Do they know what’s really important to the members of their team?”

Southwest’s policy of hiring for attitude and training for skill can result in situations where highly-qualified candidates are passed over because they do not exemplify the company’s core values. “This is a very tight labor market,” Weber said. “But Southwest has decided that we won’t compromise on our hiring practices. It takes a lot of courage, but we stand by what we will believe makes us successful. We’re not going to sacrifice hiring for attitude.” In a recent survey, 76% of Southwest employees said they felt that their job was a calling. “This level of engagement is no accident,” Weber said. “We hire people who will view their jobs that way.”

In 2015, Southwest Airlines received 300,000 job applications. Only 2.2% of those applicants were hired. But those 6,600 people who did make the cut now get to work for a company that truly “luvs” their employees.

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Steve Springer, Regional Director for Sales and Marketing, Verizon

Executives on Campus: Steve Springer, Regional Director for Sales and Marketing, Verizon

Advertisements—we see them everywhere. Whether it’s television commercials, pop-up ads, billboards or direct mailers, we are surrounded by marketers determined to grab our attention and spur us to action in some way. And while some of these tactics may seem scattershot, much of this advertising is targeted to you specifically. Steve Springer (MBA, ’04), Regional Director for Sales and Marketing at Verizon, spoke to Dr. Laura Munoz’s class on February 23 about how the multi-billion dollar company determines exactly how and to whom their marketing messages will be delivered.

Springer began by explaining that his division is responsible for marketing Fios, Verizon’s fiber optic cable network that provides internet, television, and voice services to homes and businesses in areas of Texas. But because the service is not available to every household in the DFW area (only in those areas where the actual fiber optic cable has been installed), Springer and his team must make marketing decisions based on detailed reports in order to most efficiently target their current and potential customers.

“Television and radio ads don’t work for us,” Springer told the group. “Not only are they expensive, but they generate calls to my call center from areas where I can’t provide service. So that kind of marketing is not an efficient use of our resources.” Instead of blanketing the entire DFW metroplex with mass-marketing advertising, Springer and his team analyze various data points to determine where their greatest potential for growth lies. “We focus on three specific areas,” he said. “Acquisition, retention, and upsell.”

Because Fios enjoys a hefty market share and good customer satisfaction ratings in areas where their service is available, Springer explained that the company puts a greater emphasis on retention in communities where their market share is already high. “There will always be some customers who shop on price. And everyone below you wants a piece of your business, so we focus on retaining customers in areas where we have high market penetration,” he said. “We want to show our customers that we care about them and will not always be trying to sell them something.”

To retain customers, Springer and his marketing team craft messages specific to their target market. For instance, he spends a good portion of his marketing budget to sponsor community events. “High school football is huge in Texas,” he said. “And it’s something that communities rally around, so we want to be a part of that.” In addition, Verizon has sponsored other events such as video game tournaments and robotics competitions to reach IT-savvy customers.

Springer further discussed how Verizon’s marketing messages change depending on the demographics of a community. Denton, Texas–home to two universities–has a very large rental community in proportion to other real estate, which affects the types of products his team promotes. “Renters are usually more interested in data alone and less in cable and voice,” he said. “So we don’t usually offer higher-priced bundles to those customers.”

Springer underscored the importance of making marketing decisions based on hard data. Verizon’s data comes from a variety of sources, including in-house customer information and from 3rd party research firms that report on market share relative to competitors. “The bottom line,” Springer said, “Is that you have a limited marketing budget, so you must have the data to support any marketing decision you make.”

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Jennifer Proctor, American Airlines

Executives on Campus: Jennifer Proctor, American Airlines

You’ve probably been on a plane before, maybe lots of times. But what you may not realize is the amount of decision-making and strategic planning that goes into the entire experience—everything from booking your flight to landing safely at your destination. Jennifer Proctor, (BA ’87, Finance) Managing Director of Customer Experience Planning for American Airlines, spoke on February 17 to Dr. Michael Stodnick’s Senior Seminar about the challenges the airline faces in creating the best customer experience possible. “As of 2013, American Airlines is the world’s largest airline,” Proctor said, “and now we want to be the best.”

Proctor said that after emerging from bankruptcy in 2013 and beginning the merger process with US Airways, American began focusing five strategic areas—“have-to-do’s” that will help American Airlines regain its top-tier image. “We have to focus on our customer needs and wants, become an industry leader in reliability, engage our team members, create return for our investors, and look to the future,” she said.

Although several departments within American Airlines are eager to test new products and services, Proctor said company must maintain its focus. “We have to be strategic about these potential projects,” she said. “Each department within the company must answer myriad questions to determine the feasibility of any new service. What is the revenue impact? What is the cost impact? What is the project timeline? How does the project affect our competitive situation? Does this project deliver the American Airlines vision?”
2015 was the most profitable year in the history of American Airlines, but Proctor knows that the company must continue to innovate in all areas to maintain those record profits. “We know that happy employees equals happy customers, and happy customers equals happy shareholders,” she said. With that in mind, American is working on improving employee engagement and satisfaction.

So the next time you board an American Airlines flight, remember that everything from your free soda to the power outlet under your seat was considered and reconsidered in order to give you the best experience possible. And then silently thank UD alumna Jennifer Proctor that your phone won’t die mid-flight.

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Jesse Orsini: Former CEO, Carborundum

Jesse Orsini: Former CEO, Carborundum

The oil and gas business isn’t just about the stuff that runs our cars and heats our homes. There are countless processes and components involved with the extraction of the products so vital to our everyday lives. Some of the more esoteric of these components are proppants, and Jesse Orsini built a multi-million-dollar business on this highly specialized product.

Speaking to Dr. Laura Munoz’s Global Entrepreneurship class on February 10, Orsini detailed the history of his former company, Carborundum. Founded in 1890, Carborundum was originally a manufacturer of ceramics used in grinding operations. In the 1970s, the company began producing ceramic beads, called proppants, for use as an efficient substitute for the sand then used by drillers in the hydraulic fracking process.

“The product sold very well, and when the time came to expand,” Orsini said, “we knew we would need an aggressive marketing plan to really make a dent in the sand market.” With the help of a petroleum engineer named Steve Cobb, Carborundum not only developed ways to demonstrate the effectiveness of ceramic proppants using actual raw materials, but they also created software programs that could simulate the specific conditions of individual wells. “We couldn’t just sell on the science behind the product,” Orsini said. “We had to show our customers the actually monetary benefits.”

Over the years, as the market for ceramic proppants grew, Carborundum remained profitable, and was part of several buyouts. But as the 17-year patent coverage for the product and manufacturing process drew to a close, Orsini recognized that the time was right to retire from the business.

The market for ceramic proppants has since declined because of lagging oil prices and slowing demand. “I still believe that there is a long term benefit to ceramic proppants,” Orsini said. “But it’s hard to argue with a company that can barely keep its doors open. Sand is cheaper in the short run.” Orsini said the future of companies like Carborundum lies in the recovery of oil markets and in finding new industrial applications for the ceramic beads that make up proppants. And although we can’t always predict the future of markets, we can be sure that the creative engineers and savvy entrepreneurs, like those in University of Dallas classrooms right now, will continue to develop and market products that we never even knew we needed.

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Sustainable Business Network: Understanding Big Data

Sustainable Business Network: Understanding Big Data

The phrase “big data”–intriguing to some, unsettling to others—is the common business term for the treasure trove of information companies collect and analyze in hopes making informed, strategic decisions. Representatives from Sabre, United Healthcare and a major global telecommunications provider spoke at the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network event on October 20, 2015, about how their specific organizations balance the need for consumer analytics with their customers’ desire for privacy.

“The ‘Big Data’ department is more like a Silicon Valley start-up,” said the director of big data privacy and compliance for the telecommunications company. “Every day is something new. There’s no one to ask and no manual or practice guide.”

The director said that big data leads to predictive analytics and that data on customer behavior can help companies predict future activity, such as the likelihood of customer “churn,” leaving one communications service provider for another. Because of FCC regulations, however, customers of the telecommunications company must “opt-in” to allow the company to collect anything more than basic service data. The director said bringing in data scientists from unregulated fields who aren’t used to the kinds of regulations to which his company must comply is a particular challenge. “They have great ideas,” he said, “but they don’t fit into what a highly-regulated company can do.”

Dorcinda Pipkin, Data Privacy Manager for Sabre, a global travel services company, said that because her company provides the technology which airlines and hotels use to interact with their own customers, Sabre has to be particularly careful about how consumer data is used. “Our goal is to provide our customers [airlines, hotels and travel services] with information on their travelers that allows them to provide their own customers with better service and pricing, “ she said. “Each contract negotiation includes a detailed description of exactly how the end-consumer’s data will be used.”

Andrew Consolver, Vice President of Information Technology for United Healthcare said that big data helps his company fulfill its mission of helping people live healthier lives. “By interacting with patients, medical providers and employers, we can help individuals by using data about what has helped others who have been on the same path. This not only leads to a better quality of life for patients, it reduces medical costs in general,” Consolver said.

Storing mounds of sensitive data is not without its risks. A question from the audience led the panelists into a discussion of the security of PII, or personally identifiable information. Consolver said that data security is a top priority for United Healthcare. “We have refined and increased the focus on security by orders of magnitude in recent years,” he said.

The telecommunications director described internal processes at his company that keep highly sensitive private data secure. “Our external firewall protects us from outside invaders. Having an internal firewall means that we manually monitor the very few, highly-trusted individuals that have access to sensitive data,” he said.

The panelists agreed that although data scientists at their respective companies may present new and innovative ways to cull and analyze customer data, it is ultimately up to the compliance teams to determine whether these activities meet their internal privacy regulations. “We have to ask ourselves,” the telecommunications director said, “’What are the ethical implications of mining this data?’”

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. Click here for information on the next SBN event.

Texas Instruments: A Commitment to Ethics

Texas Instruments: A Commitment to Ethics

According to David Solomon, Vice President and Director of Ethics at Texas Instruments, a respect for history is an important part of the TI culture. From its beginnings as an oil exploration company in the 1930s and throughout its evolution into a $13 billion dollar leader in the technology industry, ethics have also been an integral part of the company’s core values. “What we have behind us is a long history of doing the right thing,” Solomon said, “as well as the momentum to keep doing it.” Solomon spoke on July 24, 2015 to a group of local business leaders on the topic of ethics and compliance as part of the University of Dallas’ Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business Sustainable Business Network event. Texas Instruments hosted over 80 attendees from a variety of local companies, including Oncor, Sabre, PepsiCo, Bell Helicopter, Fidelity Investments, Cucina Antiqua, along with a large cohort from AT&T.

“A true commitment to ethics comes from the top,” Solomon said. “TI’s leaders establish the ‘tone at the top’ by communicating to the entire their own commitment to doing business the right way.” In order to ensure that everyone at Texas Instruments understands the importance of ethical behavior, Solomon travels to TI sites around the world speaking with leaders and employees to help them understand the company’s code of conduct.

In 2015, Texas Instruments was named as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Magazine for the 9th consecutive year and was named 2nd in Industry on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list for 12th consecutive year. Solomon believes that TI has achieved these accolades because ethics is a priority for everyone in the company. “We have always had an open door policy at TI,” Solomon said. To reinforce this, the company has established 13 mostly anonymous channels for employees to communicate concerns about ethics or compliance.

Solomon also addressed how an emphasis on ethics affects the company’s global interests. “We want to do business the right way at Texas Instruments. We carry the message around the world–into countries or cultures where employees might be reluctant to report a compliance issue,” he said. According to Solomon, this commitment to ethics helps TI recruit top-quality employees. “Telling our story helps us recruit the right people. They want to work for a good company,” he said.

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. Information on the next SBN event can be found at here.

Honing Leadership Skills: Joe Blute

Honing Leadership Skills: Joe Blute

joe_bluteJoe Blute, a 2012 graduate of the University of Dallas with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, credits the University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development with helping him build the relationships necessary to secure a permanent position after graduation. “Working with the OPCD helped me get the internship which led to my career with GE Capital,” said Blute, who is now part of GE Capital’s highly- selective leadership training cohort, Financial Management Program. As part of this program, Joe has rotated through several positions around the country, learning the ins-and-outs of the company’s internal operations. Blute says that his Chemistry degree from UD, though not typical for a finance professional, helped him develop the critical and analytical mindset that has helped in excel in the business world. “I honed leadership skills at UD as well,” Blute said. “I mentored younger students while I was in the Chemistry department, a practice which I have carried on by mentoring the newer analysts at GE Capital.”

For more information about career choices, visit the University of Dallas Office of Personal Career Development.

Gaining Experience: Mary McKenzie (’14)

Gaining Experience: Mary McKenzie (’14)

mary_mackenzie

Mary McKenzie, a 2014 graduate of the University of Dallas, says that getting involved with a variety of activities during her time at the UD helped her gain the experience that led to her permanent position as the Internship Program Coordinator at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. While at UD McKenzie worked as the Director in Charge of Student Programming. She says that potential employers looked favorably on her ability to hold leadership positions while maintaining a full academic load. “And I didn’t do just one internship,” McKenzie said. “I did several. I gained on-the-job, down to earth experience that helped me get a position right after graduation.” She says that these internships, along with her volunteer positions, gave her a wealth of experiences and situations upon which to draw when talking to an employer or in an interview situation.

For More information of the value of internships, visit the University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development.

Jake Thompson: Compete Every Day

Jake Thompson: Compete Every Day

Jake Thompson (MBA ’08) calls himself the President and Chief Encouragement Officer of Compete Every Day. He spoke on October 14, 2014 to Dr. Greg Bell’s Entrepreneurship class. The idea for the lifestyle apparel company Thompson started in 2010 came when he asked himself: “What would it look like to compete for every day of your life?” Finding inspiration in the question, he used money saved for a trip to New Zealand to buy t-shirts emblazoned with the new company name, selling them out of his trunk. Active in the CrossFit community, Thompson knew that this group of avid exercisers had not only a commitment to an active lifestyle, but also sufficient disposable income to be a viable target audience for his product. After success with this group, he has since expanded the reach of the company to include anyone that finds inspiration from competing every day to achieve his or her best life. “I wanted Compete Every Day to be about more than a catchy phrase on a t-shirt,” Thompson said. To that end, the company’s website contains inspirational videos, quotes, and stories about everyday people achieving great things.

Thompson turned to a grass-roots style of funding to grow his business, using his own savings and a line of credit from his hometown bank to finance operations. This has allowed Thompson to maintain 100% control of the company and its direction. He uses a grassroots approach to marketing as well by relying on social media to generate excitement and word-of-mouth about the Compete Every Day brand. “We post three to four days per week on our blog, two to three times per week on Facebook, and nearly every day on Twitter and Instagram,” said Thompson. The company also has an app which gives users updates on new products, access to exclusive offers and even inspirational quotes. “This kind of social media presence makes the community your microphone and megaphone,” he said. Thompson added that grass-roots marketing isn’t a quick fix. “This is a powerful way to grow a business, but it takes time.” Part of this approach includes establishing a physical presence at lifestyle events like marathons and CrossFit competitions in order to increase brand awareness among the company’s target groups.

Thompson relies on his own ideas and those of a few graphic designers to produce unique shirts available on the company’s website for only 72 hours, creating scarcity that drives customers back to the website in anticipation of new designs. Thompson’s marketing plan is working: after reaching six figures during the 2012 fiscal year, Compete Every Day’s sales have doubled two years in a row and are on track to increase another 1.5 times by the end of the company’s current fiscal year. But revenue isn’t the Thompson’s only goal. “The most important thing you can do is tell a powerful story about your company,” he said, “and Compete Every Day’s story is that you have a life worth competing for.”

Jake Thompson graduated in 2008 from the University of Dallas’ Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business with a Masters of Business Administration.