Emad Georgy: Big Questions Beat Big Data
“With my software engineering background, I’m naturally inclined to data. It’s part of my DNA, and part of the organizational DNA here at Experian.” Emad Georgy is CTO at Experian Marketing Services, a business built on the foundations of Experian plc‘s twenty year history of securely aggregating and managing consumer data.
Working at the C-level, I asked Georgy if he ever gets his hands dirty with actual analytics any more? “Not as much as I’d like,” he said, “but it’s a daily thing for me.” It’s something he requires of other members of his leadership team too. “You’ve got to have street cred with your own tech team,” he laughed, adding that he has to have an authentic understanding of the analytics in order to help Experian’s clients.
Georgy’s early education took place in Southern California, first at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, and then at Loyola Marymount University where he studied for a B.A. in information systems. His M.A. in organizational leadership came from nearby Biola University. In his career prior to joining Experian, he seems to have consistently ridden two horses: technological expertise and business leadership. He’s been a director of technology and director of software development, but he’s also been a business architect at a series of companies.
He joined Experian Marketing Services in 2010 as VP and Chief Architect for Global Product Development, and today serves as the brand’s CTO, leading software engineering, development and product management in over 30 countries. Among his achievements has been leading the team which developed the industry’s first digital linkage platform for marketers built on HBase and Hadoop.
I asked when he first became personally convinced of the importance of data and analytics, and the answer drew connections between his software and business architecture roles. “After leading a number of organizations,” he said, referring to positions he held prior to Experian , “you start seeing a pattern.” For example, he kept hearing, “We need to embark on a multi-million dollar project to rewrite an architecture. I started thinking about that: Why? How did we get here? And then, what if we figured out a way to predict how we would get to that place?”
It was clear that, over a number of years, small decisions can lead to a point where major fixes to architecture are required. Georgy realized that data was available which could be used to predict technical debt; to project the “future impact of decisions made every day.”
The other driver for Georgy’s commitment to data analytics has been interactions with clients. Again, he recognized “a regular pattern—retailers, airlines, hotels; they’re only as good as their last interaction. Customer loyalty is dissipating. Data can help brands “uniquely understand customer behavior. At Experian, with all of our expertise, we can play a role in getting data to a position where it’s actionable.”
In practice, Georgy told me, that means clients can bring data to the Experian Marketing Services platform “as is.” It’s a game-changer, he said. “We don’t dictate a strategy. We’ll make sure that the data is ready to use and actionable.”
But that’s only part of the puzzle. “People always talk about the big data piece,” he said, “but don’t always talk about asking the right questions of the data.” This is especially true when it comes to the growing field of predictive analytics. A lot of businesses, he said, are still figuring out basic reporting on attribution. “They’re still in this place where the data has got to be right. Then although they’re starting to get the taste for predictive capabilities, they realize that it’s not sexy when you really have to do it. Building (capabilities) is slow going.” His team increasingly finds itself consulting with clients on predictive marketing. “It’s exciting,” he said. “The technology is there, no doubt. But the focus should really be on design: What questions are we trying to answer?”
When Georgy tries to explain his work to non-initiates, the response has sometimes been: so you deliver spam. “Actually,” he laughed, “the more you learn about what we do, we’re really doing the exact opposite of that. We build relevant experiences every time.” The consumer, whether he or she knows it or not, appreciates that.