Jane Zavalishina Takes on Big Data – ArabNet Digital Summit 2016

ArabNet Team, Apr 05 2016

The words “big data” are on everybody’s lips, and, admittedly, many companies agree that leveraging it is key to achieving growth and acquiring a competitive edge. However, the truth is that even today only a few of them have a clear idea of exactly how to do that, or grasp the potentially unlimited applications of machine learning.

Don’t panic – this is normal. In addition, if anyone can shed more light on the issue, it is definitely Jane Zavalishina, CEO of Yandex Data Factory (YDF).

Unlike hardcore analysts “born” into data, Zavalishina became a data scientist by field practice, starting out pretty much at the same level as the average person today. This places her in an ideal position to share her learnings using a pragmatic approach and a language most people can actually comprehend.

We are grateful to have Zavalishina among the key speakers at ArabNet Digital Summit 2016 to discuss this hot topic in today’s digital ecosystem.

If you’re joining us for the summit, you’re in for a treat. While we all wait, we had the chance to talk to her and bring you a small entrée to whet your appetite:

1. In your opinion, which key sectors will big data have the biggest impact on?

I believe it’s more about “how soon we will see the impact”, than how big it will be – there’s no doubt that eventually big data will transform virtually every industry. Some business sectors are already changed by big data and machine learning – such as advertising or e-commerce. It takes more time for traditional “offline” industries to adopt new technologies, but the potential there is huge – we have already started seeing fascinating examples of big data use in manufacturing, metallurgy, and oil and gas, to name just a few. With the development of the IoT and the vast amounts of data being generated by sensors and telemetry, different industries will face new levels of automation – related not only to robots on the assembly line, but to automated decision-making and planning.

2. How does YDF assist companies derive the significant data they have been collecting to provide solutions? How do they go from vision to execution?

On the one hand, the technologies we are working with – namely, machine learning – are quite new for many businesses, so they often need to be explained first, to give a better feeling of what exactly can be accomplished with their help. On the other hand, the potential is almost unlimited. Advanced analytics and predictive technologies can be applied to improve marketing, optimize production costs, or replace certain routine activities currently performed manually.

Thus, very often, we start with jointly brainstorming with our clients to find the best use cases to start with. Once the project is chosen – and this could be anything from predicting expected network load for telecommunications, to developing a recommender system for personalized cross-selling for a retail bank – we define the KPIs that would measure the success, and proceed with implementation.

The beauty of these new big data analytics technologies is that they make everything measurable, and the effect from their use can be seen directly – through improved sales, or optimized costs.

3. What are some challenges businesses face when implementing machine learning technologies?

As it usually happens with disruptive technologies, the main challenge is changing the business mindset.

This measurability that I mentioned is great, but it also carries a challenge: the need for companies to develop a culture of experimentation, and to learn to deal with “black box” algorithms. Imagine being able to come up with a tailored cross-selling offer for a specific client, that would increase their sales, but not being able to explain to them how this offer was derived – simply because the machine took so many factors into account that a human being cannot process. That is something we have to deal with on a daily basis with our clients, and that of course will require some more time for businesses to adopt.

4. Do you think big data and machine learning can revolutionize the slow bureaucratized government processes?

These new technologies can do many things, from providing better information when and where it’s needed, to automating routine tasks. The only things machines cannot do is to make strategic decisions – that’s something we, humans, still need to handle.

5. Is YDF considering entering the Middle East market? And are you considering partnering with startups in the region?

We are already working with some companies in the Middle East, and are looking forward to establishing more successful cooperation on the market. Given that our technologies bring the greatest impact when it comes to dealing with large volumes of historical data, the majority of our clients are well-established companies. But, of course, we are open to discuss potential collaboration with startups as well.

Meet Jane Zavalishina and additional experts at ArabNet Digital Summit - Dubai, May 30-31, 2016

Check out the conference speakers and program and register now to make sure you don't miss it.

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