Solving the Riddle of Overwhelming Technology Options

By Rick Watrall, Chief Analytics Officer, Horizon Media

Rick Watrall, Chief Analytics Officer, Horizon Media

1. How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years?

Like a lot of industries, the focus has shifted from having data as part of the operations to leveraging it (through analytics) for strategic value. Though this has been done for decades to some extent, there has been an explosion in the last five years or so as companies have embraced using analytics to maintain a competitive advantage. We’ve seen many of our clients staffing up in the area of data and analytics to a scale not seen before, and this has changed IT needs dramatically in order to support this growth. This brings new and ‘unheard-of’ challenges. For example, newer technologies on the market that enable more of a “self-service” model that allows users the ability to develop very sophisticated work products are challenging the old-school model of how IT and the (analytic) user base interact. This newer mode requires a greater level of governance than before as more and more is “owned” by user groups who may not always have the expertise in development that an IT function has.

"There are a number of obvious obstacles that every vertical is facing, including, finding talent, adjusting to the new emphasis on data/analytics and acquiring funding for projects"

2. What does Analytics mean for banks and other financial institutions?

Analytics means a variety of things to different people. It can be a pretty wide umbrella spanning everything from basic data functions like Business Intelligence through more advanced analytics like machine learning and modeling. In the end, analytics is all about driving the business. But even that goal can have many dimensions to it. As a media company, analytics plays a role in ensuring that our clients make the most out of their media investments. So, analytics for us as applied to the banking vertical centers on insights that will make for better media buys, with emphasis on targeting, the buying process and measurement. However, analytics for financial companies, which have a wealth of data not seen in every vertical, can cover much more than that; anything involving customer relationship management, fraud protection and risk management to name a few.

3. What do you think are the biggest challenges that technologists face when it comes to Banking/ financial analytics?

There are a number of obvious obstacles that every vertical is facing, including, finding talent, adjusting to the new emphasis on data/analytics and acquiring funding for projects. However, one of the biggest and more subtle challenges we see is keeping up with the constant changes and options for technology solutions. We’ve learned that the right choices can make or break success, and very often something will come along that is game-changing. It takes a constant effort to keep on top of all that is out there, and we spend a great deal of resources canvassing the landscape of technologies to find those golden nuggets. Because we service so many clients, not just in banking and financial, but many other verticals, it is cost effective for us to do this. However, from speaking with clients, the explosion of technology options comprehending them is a big obstacle. To help them navigate this, we have created a knowledge base of analytic technologies where we evaluate each part of the space including key vendors. We are also serving more and more in a consulting mode in order to help overcome this obstacle.

4. What set of skills do you think is required for the technology leaders to be successful in banking and other financial institutions?

To be successful in the Banking/Financial Sector, not only do technology leaders need a wide business perspective, but also the ability to understand where things are going. I’ve always been a believer in having an overarching vision that is clear and articulated, backed by having high-quality people that are well rounded. Your success is highly dependent on your people, and I like to follow a strategy that is somewhat different from my competitors. I almost always hire on potential rather than the current knowledge state. In particular, with technology changing so rapidly, I’d rather place a bet on someone who can adapt over a person with specific expertise that might not be relevant two years from now. The requirements for technology leaders is no different.

5. Which growing or future banking technology innovation are you personally excited about?

As it relates to the media space that I operate in, the most exciting things I see for my Banking/Financial clients are the increase in data sources/technologies that allow for better targeting and the innovation I see in measuring the impact of media. I’m also seeing a de-emphasis on “the technology” and starting with the business questions that need to be addressed, which then leads to the technical solve. Too often we see tech advances (big data comes to mind) that then are looking for a problem to solve, which leads to a focus that may not be addressing the highest priority questions. That said, I am very interested in data lake technologies, like Microsoft Azure, as I see them potentially providing the critical data infrastructure for analytics using the approach that I’ve found to be very effective.

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