Nilan Peiris runs the internet business at HolidayExtras. Nilan's specific role is that of Chief Marketing Technology Officer, with responsibilities spanning disciplines from infrastructure through to online marketing. This is the transcript of an interview we conducted with him about his views of the current and future challenges surrounding the utilisation of big data in business.
Hi Nilan thanks for joining us. How was 2011 for you?
We had a great year, we're growing at about 20% this year and that's whilst the market has gone backwards by about 10 points, so I think we're doing really well. As a group we turn over Â£200 million this year and the internet business accounts for about 60% of those overall revenues.
Within your role how are you dealing with data on a day to day basis?
In the online space bringing technology and marketing together is critical if you are going to compete, they really need to be aligned. CMOs who are at the brand end of the spectrum really struggle in the performance marketing arena. These days in order to compete, to get access to traffic, to manage your CPA costs and acquire customers online you need to be able to develop deep analytical capabilities that leverage your data assets to enable you to find opportunities to acquire and convert traffic.
What is the greatest challenge when it comes to Big Data?
What I find is that the Big Data moniker focuses on one aspect of data which is its size. What I think is a more important focus is around the data science end. This is where the market is going and where the money can be made. What I mean by data science is bringing together mathematics, mathematical tools and computer science tools into a single place that enables you to slice data through different perspectives to identify opportunities that enable you to drive action. Once that has been done you then have a unique opportunity to create processes around those opportunities you found and to serve that data to the teams to support them to drive value and growth. The only way that can be done is to unite marketing and technical functions.
Would you agree that there is a deficit when it comes to data scientists with both an analytical and a business ability?
Absolutely I completely agree with that. I think part of your competitive advantage is in building a people strategy that embraces that, understands it and figures out how to live within that context. So for example there are many roles that I don't advertise for as per the role description, as per the role title, because it would not be economically viable for me to obtain that role. So my people strategy is much more around identifying people who could potentially grow into that role over a period of years. It's a case of partnering with universities, with intern programmes and grad programmes to identify that talent. The scarcity of skill is incredible at the moment.
What are the challenges for the CIO function right now?
I worry about the way that the industry is type-casting the role of the CIO going forward. I think the biggest wave of change we've had here is the consumerisation of IT which has effectively disintermediated the role of the CIO and CTO. No longer does the CMO need to go through an IT procurement process to get a new CRM system, they can just pull out their credit card and go to salesforce.com and empower their work force in doing that. In doing that though, and how I see CIOs and CTOs defining their role at the moment in that enterprise context is as guardians of risk and compliance, which is a really great way of doing yourself out of a job.
So I think there is a massive opportunity here for CTOs who really embrace understanding technology as a competitive advantage, dismantling the walls around technology that they have build within their business behind the guise of risk and compliance. To enable this to happen you really need to move technology from out from underneath the CFO if that's where it is (being managed as a cost), getting clear on what is core to your competitive advantage and non-core, letting go of the stuff that is non-core and letting your business get on with making decisions and mistakes around those bits, and then figuring out where and how you invest to leverage technology to drive growth.
Part two to follow tomorrow! For update from the Big Data community, add the RSS feed from this blog here: Add Big Data RSS