Spark of Innovation
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: July 20, 2012 Updated: 3:22 p.m.
The following interview took place between the Orange County Register and David Savlowitz of Competitive Analytics, a business intelligence and market-research firm:
What project/research are you working on?
I invested the last four years developing DECIPHERTM POWER USER and DECIPHERTM MOBILE, a full-service business intelligence (“BI”) solution for desktop, iPad and iPhone. Our philosophy is to help executives “decipher their business” in order to make better decisions. We do this by delivering four vital ingredients: 1) reliable & perpetual data; 2) contextual & proprietary analytics; 3) interactive & mobile visualizations; and 4) strategic & tactical advisory. In essence, we literally help organizations “decipher” their internal performance, their competitors, their markets, and the economy.
What is your specific role in moving this project/research forward?
It is my vision to deliver a powerful, user-friendly and affordable BI solution to business executives. My role includes all aspects of developing the vision into a final product – such as articulating the concept, designing the analytical features of the product, implementing the IT aspects, negotiating OEM agreements, and developing the mathematical and econometric formulas that provide a robust analytical foundation. Michael Ponton, our company’s Chief Analytics Officer, performed the detailed analytics programming.
What would be the most successful outcome of your work, and what impact would it have on how we live?
According to a recent MIT/IBM study, higher performing companies are much more likely to use business analytics than lower performing ones. My vision is that our mobile business intelligence solution, DECIPHERTM MOBILE, is widely adopted by businesses and other organizations of all sizes to allow executives to make decisions based on facts rather than intuition and guesswork. The end result would be to increase the productivity, profitability, and quality of life of four major sectors: business, government, education, and healthcare. A lot of business failures could potentially be averted by decisions being made based on data and analytics.
What about this project is important to you personally? What is the very best part of your job – when do you feel the most satisfaction?
At the very core, my mission is to enhance knowledge. Fundamentally, what I do is about bringing creative insight to decision-makers to help them make better and faster decisions. What is most important to me is that our clients are learning something new from the work we do. The best part of my job is when I can help a client understand their business better, especially when I am able to rectify an incorrect assumption that they have been basing their business on. For example, we recently had a client that assumed for the last 20 years that capitalization rates for apartments tracked LIBOR rates. By applying rigorous analytics, we proved that this was completely false and that this client should have been looking at changes in supply, momentum in the U.S. economy, and changes in liquidity.
Why did you choose this career?
I remember being in music class in 4th grade when the instructor gave us a quiz. The first question was: “What is the universal language?” Everyone in class answered “music.” I was the only one in class who got that easy question wrong – I penciled in “math.” It was then I presume my career as an economist grew – out of my love of numbers, statistics, and mathematics. As a teenager, I was (and still am) a baseball fanatic. My friends and I would create fantasy baseball teams, which would involve tracking player’s statistics. Baseball is one of the most fertile grounds for innovative statistical analysis and it’s also a wonderful metaphor for the complexities of business. In essence, I see what I do now is Moneyball for businesses, cities, and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Ironically enough, I am also a musician (guitarist, singer, songwriter). I love jazz, classical, and rock. So, getting back to my wrong answer in 4th grade music class, the answer is really both music and math.If you study both mathematics and music, you will quickly discover that music is math . . . and math can be very musical!
Who or what inspired you to study in your field?
Honestly, the most influential and inspiring force in my life was Star Trek. I love the fact that Star Trek’s technology back in the late 1960s literally predicted today’s ubiquitous products, such as the mobile phone, voice control, Wikipedia, Google, the iPad, portable medical scanners, and the universal translator. And that is what we continually try to do at Competitive Analytics – innovate, innovate, innovate.
What makes you particularly well-suited to this work?
I think what makes me particularly well suited for business intelligence and market research is the same for a great athlete, musician, lawyer, or doctor: Passion, 10,000 hours or hard work learning your discipline, great mentors, a talented team, allowing yourself to make mistakes and then learning from them, and investing in the best technology available.
Where did you go to college? What degrees do you have?
I spent my first two years at Albany University in New York, and then transferred Arizona State University. When I began university I was pursuing a computer science degree, but I switched direction and graduated with a B.S. in Finance and a minor in Music Theory. Later, I received my MBA at Arizona State University as well (earning a full paid scholarship from the consulting firm I was working at). Of course, math, statistics, and music were my favorite courses.
During high school and college, which courses helped best prepare you for your current position?
My first advanced statistics course blew my mind. I can still remember the professor explaining “if you took these numbers and then applied this formula with these numbers . . . you can forecast the future!” It was right then and there I was hooked!.
What advice would you give, particularly to the student who may think math, science or engineering are “too hard” for him or her?
OK…Let me jump on my rickety soapbox for just a moment: To excel at anything takes really hard work. Period. Unfortunately, we are in a day and age where young adults assume that when they graduate, they will be granted a VP title and the corner office by just showing up. We started an internship program called Tesseract and it amazes me the abysmal work ethic students have today. Students (especially studying math, science or engineering) need to follow the theory of “10,000 Hours,” which states that to be an expert at anything takes 10,000 hours. When I give presentations to students, I often play them a clip of The Beatles in early 1960 when they first formed the group…the clip is horrible. They sound like one of the worst bands you will ever hear. But fast forward a few years later (after playing 10 to 16 hours a day, everyday) and The Beatles transformed themselves from a neighborhood garage band to one of the greatest group of musician/songwriters of all time. So yes, math, science or engineering are hard . . . and at times they will be extremely hard. But that’s life. Those that succeed to push, push, push until they break down whatever wall is in front of them will succeed. So, I guess I would have to say math, science or engineering require “persistence” above all else. And students should remember that the root word “sis” (embedded in the word persistence) means, “to act.”