SPOTLIGHT: Data and Analytics Q&A with Scott Staples, MindTree's President of the Americas

Originally published 25 July 2011

BeyeNETWORK Spotlights focus on news, events and products in the business intelligence ecosystem that are poised to have a significant impact on the industry as a whole; on the enterprises that rely on business intelligence, analytics, performance management, data warehousing and/or data governance products to understand and act on the vital information that can be gleaned from their data; or on the providers of these mission-critical products.

Presented as a Q&A-style article, these interviews with leading voices in the industry including software vendors, end users and independent consultants are conducted by the BeyeNETWORK and present the behind-the-scene view that you won’t read in press releases.

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Scott Staples, one of the co-founders of MindTree and President of the Americas. Scott is responsible for running the Data & Analytics Solutions business globally for MindTree. In this interview, Ron and Scott discuss the reasons for the rapidly increasing interest in analytics.

Scott, for those in our audience who are not familiar with MindTree, let’s begin by having you give us an overview of MindTree and the recently established Data & Analytics Solutions (DAS) practice?

Scott Staples: Absolutely. MindTree may not be one of those brands that’s recognized globally, and I think people are pretty shocked when they learn that we actually have 10,000 employees around the world and we’re on a pace to do about $400 million in revenue this year. We’re going to celebrate MindTree’s 12-year anniversary in August, and we’ve had a great run and track record. In just 12 years, we’ve gone from no revenue and a handful of founders to more than 10,000 people around the world and $400 million globally. Of those 10,000 people, we actually have 800+ in what we’re calling our Data & Analytics Solutions practice. You mentioned it as being kind of a new practice, but it really isn’t new to us; it’s more that we’ve put together some things that were already going on within MindTree, put them under one roof to create a much more powerful entity.

Well that’s great. It’s probably every entrepreneur’s dream to go from zero to $400 million in 12 years so that’s absolutely wonderful. You’re right, I know that in the past MindTree had business intelligence, data warehousing and knowledge services practices. Does the fact that you combined these now into the new Data & Analytics Solutions practice mean you no longer see a need for business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing?

Scott Staples: No, it's actually quite the opposite. We put them together because there were so many synergies between the groups. In the past, we had a great story in data, we had a great story in BI, and we had a great in story in analytics. But when we looked at the data landscape, we actually came to the conclusion that it’s actually a four-legged stool. So what we ended up doing was taking the three practices that we already had – data, business intelligence, and analytics – and put them together and then added a new practice, or really a new offering, which is in the area of research. What we’ve done is that the single offerings themselves have lots of great people, and lots of great offerings, and lots of great clients, but when you put them together, it's a much more powerful story. We can now tell our customers that we can be a one-stop shop for all their data and analytics needs.

Now that we have a combined offering, we can help with anything from their data strategy, to their master data management, to building enterprise data warehouses, to then taking that data and analyzing it with functional experts and statisticians creating models. On the BI side, we can help them find the best method of reporting, whether it's through traditional reporting or through new trends and advanced data visualization with interactive dashboards.

The last component, which is still the smallest component because it's new, is the area of research. What we’re doing in this area is we’re helping companies enhance their data by taking in third-party data from other sources or actually even doing primary research to make sure that their data is the best it can be and then figure out ways to monetize it and use it internally.

That sounds great, Scott. That’s very similar to what we’ve done at TechTarget. From a perspective of service offerings, what types of service offerings are you providing now through the Data & Analytics Solutions practice?

Scott Staples: I think you actually just made a great point – what we do as a company is services. We don’t have any products. Rather we actually have a wide variety of service offerings so companies can come to us, for example, just for data needs. For example, if a company wants a single version of the truth and they want us to help them with their master data management strategy and even implementing master data management offerings and tools, we do that. Or we can build data marts for companies or enterprise data warehouses and things like that.

On the analytics side, we’re focusing on a couple of different areas. We’ve got great stories in customer and marketing analytics. As you may or may not know, about 80% of the analytics done in the world today are done on customer and marketing data. That kind of makes sense because companies have their best data on their pricing, their promotions, their sales, and things like that. We have service offerings in customer marketing analytics and in trade promotion analytics, which is primarily focused at the retail and consumer products companies. These companies spend so much money on promotions, but they’re not quite sure as to the ROI on those promotions. We’re actually helping them implement solutions that can better allocate their spend so they know that if they run a certain promotion with a certain supermarket or a big box retailer, they know they’ll get a big bang for their buck. We’ll also tell them where the saturation point is on a promotion – in other words, we’ll tell them they’ve spent enough money and that any more money spent will be wasted money.

On the reporting side, we do a lot of technology-based work, meaning that we might do implementations of some of the leading reporting tools. And we also will do, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of work in advanced data visualization, such as creating better dashboards and interactive dashboards for customers.

Our model is a service-based model, and it really all depends on what the customer needs. Some companies come to us for all of what I have mentioned and some come for just pieces of it.

Scott, from that perspective, do you just service large enterprises or do you service the mid-market as well? What’s your typical client base?

Scott Staples: MindTree as a company typically focuses on, I’d say, the Fortune 2000 type client base. We have about 50 Fortune 500 clients, and our generic customer market is the Fortune 2000. But in the Data & Analytics Solutions business, we can help any company of any size that’s dealing with a lot of data. That might be a company that’s only $100 million in sales but has a lot of data.

That makes a lot of sense. With this new combined practice, are there any specific industries that you see directly benefiting by the integration of services? I mean you mentioned your focus on retail and consumer products companies. Are there any others that you focus on?

Scott Staples: When you talk data and you talk analytics, there are a couple of industries that immediately jump out. CPG and financial services have really been leading that charge for a long time, but we’re starting to see a little more traction with traditional manufacturers who are trying to analyze all the data around their entire supply chain. We can help them with operational analytics and supply chain analytics and things like that. We’re also seeing a lot of traction in the travel industry. As you can imagine, travel companies generate a ton of data. If you think of the opportunities to monetize data, those opportunities are primarily in the travel industry and companies in financial services. Those are the two big ones where we actually see the opportunity to actually monetize the data.

What do you see as the biggest analytic challenges that your customers are facing today and how does this new practice area assist them in meeting those challenges?

Scott Staples: I think the biggest challenge still is getting companies to embrace analytics in general. Every company knows it's good for them, but companies have been a little slow to actually be an analytics-driven organization. Again, CPG and financial services are probably leading the charge here. They've been running analytics and looking at their data for years. Now we're actually just starting to  see new titles in organizations – director of decision sciences, director of analytics. We're starting to see these roles pop up, and there's nothing that could be better because we firmly believe that there's so much great data out there that these companies can use to better run their businesses, to be able to get into new markets, and to look at growth opportunities. So, as I see it, the big challenge in analytics is not finding the talent or lack of tools or anything like that. It's really more of a company internally embracing that they want to be a data-driven organization.

That makes sense. There are a lot of companies out there that want to use analytics but they don't want to bring in a scientist or an expert in analytics and statistics. That's really where they can reach out to you and you can guide them through whatever product or process they need. Am I saying that correctly?

Scott Staples: Absolutely. I think if you look at any analytics project, you’ll realize it requires multidimensional skill sets. It’s typically something that requires business analysts with domain expertise. Analytics projects require people that can handle large volumes of data – data analysts, statisticians, maybe even in some cases PhDs to create the models and those kind of things. Then people that are experts in reporting and data visualization are needed who understand how to create a report that people are going to want to access, want to use and can be easily understood. I think companies are struggling with the fact that it requires such a diverse skill set to do these type of projects – just one or two people. That's where MindTree comes in so well because these projects have cycles and don't necessarily go all year round. We can offer all of the necessary skill sets to a client, and they don't have to worry about fulltime employees. For example, if you're a retail company and you make most of your money in the holiday season, you may also want to be doing your main analytics seasonally. MindTree can come in and help with these seasonal-based analytics.

That sounds great. What’s your prediction for the future of analytics and why do you think the interest in analytics has exploded recently?

Scott Staples: I think it absolutely is a hot spot in the whole IT industry. It's a fact that companies are realizing that they're sitting on gold mines of data. The only way that they can monetize that data or get a better handle on that data is to start formatting that data so it's usable and then running analytics on it to glean the business insights. It's amazing the data that's out there, and companies are really just chipping at the very tip of the iceberg as to what they can do with their data. Most people think of analytics as ways to analyze trends – to answer questions such: What's happened in our business over the last couple of years? What are our pricing trends? What are our sales trends? Where are operational efficiencies? But the absolute holy grail in this industry is predictive modeling. When companies use analytics to actually predict what sales will be or what their inventory should be or those kinds of things, they’ll become so much more profitable and they’ll be able to grow so much faster. They can't do any of that without good, formatted data and the use of analytics.

Scott, in the analytics space, we're seeing a lot of interest in social media and a lot of data out there that's unstructured. Can you help companies in those areas as well? Are you seeing the same kind of interest from your customer base?

Scott Staples: That's a great point Ron. I think that's an area that can be of so much value to customers, and we're actually one of the leaders in the industry in terms of helping companies with unstructured data mining and unstructured text mining. We can help companies figure out what’s going on with their brand perception in the market. We're even helping companies internally. For example, we’re working with some HR departments to do data mining in unstructured areas to get a sense of what their employees are really thinking about the company. A great example of this involves exit interviews. When people leave a company, they may be cautious in what they say during the exit interview, but they’ll be much more outspoken in a social forum. Companies can learn a lot about what employees actually feel about the company once they've left through how they’re discussing it in social forums.

We're also doing a lot with marketing departments. Marketing departments spend literally millions of dollars every year on focus groups, market research, and things like that. But it's these unstructured data mining projects that really tell them what's going on. We’ve helped some manufacturers figure out what people really think about their product versus competitors’ products, what they really think about the pricing, what they really think about the brand.

Scott, I really appreciate the time that you've taken today to talk with me about MindTree and I want to thank you.

Scott Staples: It was my pleasure.

SOURCE: SPOTLIGHT: Data and Analytics Q&A with Scott Staples, MindTree's President of the Americas

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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