Interview: Shree Dandekar, Director BI Strategy at Dell


I recently caught up with Shree Dandekar, Dell’s director of product marketing, at Seth Godin’s Sentiment Analysis Symposium in New York.  With a passion for invention and technology, and a firm belief that businesses and business people need to integrate themselves into social networking, Shree has been leading Dell and its customers into a new level of social media analytics. In this interview, Shree shares his thoughts about the next data analytics revolution, innovation, the human factor in setting up a data analytics strategy, and Dell’s dedication to facilitating actionable insights for customers by streamlining the information life cycle. 

McCOLLAM – I’d like to jump in and ask you about a couple of things I’ve heard you talk about, such as “alien data.” That some companies still treat data as “alien,” where social intelligence isn’t relevant today. Are you still up against this argument?

ImageDANDEKAR –  Yes, I think its surprising. We talk to a lot of enterprises. Some of them have just begun their journey into social media analytics. And what’s surprising is, the reason they got into it, the inflection point is typically because they realize their competitors are doing it, or there was some event that happened within a company because of social media, that they really need to take care of it.   Whatever the reason, they get into the social media stuff thinking ok, I’ll start monitoring it, and I’m done after that.  That’s where they still treat social media as something that they need to have but not something that’s going to start contributing to their own data architecture.  That’s where we feel some companies fail to see it as a critical asset or critical competency of their data strategy.

McCOLLAM – That’s quite interesting from a Dell perspective how some companies haven’t begun to map their social media efforts, strategically aligning them to their business goals.  Before I get to the Social ROI question, which is so huge today and still the nemesis of many companies, I’m going to jump in and ask you another question from where you sit.  What do you feel are the biggest social media disruption issues today?

DANDEKAR – There are a couple.  Social media has been one of the key drivers of big data analytics revolution.  And that is one of the key disruptions that keeps hitting some of our customers and even in broader terms, other companies.  Predictive analytics is a big disruptor. Mobility is a key disruptor.  Just to throw some quick stats at you.  If you look at the percentage of users who had Internet access on their mobile devices back in 2008-09, it was only 15 or 20%. 

Today, that number has actually flipped. Only 10-15% people don’t have Internet access on their mobile phone.  So, I would say mobile is one of the biggest disruptors that is happening, which is pushing industries to do more on mobile.  For example, 88% of Facebook users today use FB through a mobile device, and Twitter is a similar case.  If you remember when the plane went down in the Hudson, it wasn’t mainstream that reported it.  It was someone standing on a bridge with his phone, taking a picture, posting it on Twitter and reporting it out to the world.

So, I would take mobility, predictive analytics, big data analytics, as the key enablers of social ROI. That there is a real ROI associated with social and this is really big. Because people are now looking at the ROI of social data as something that isn’t a myth, but something that’s actually achievable. 

McCOLLAM – Jumping right in to the Social ROI question which plagues many companies who are working under traditional capture metrics modalities.  You have said that social ROI is derived from answering how, what, where when, why? Do you agree that’s it’s time for companies to think hard about redefining social ROI metrics from the traditional capture metrics, such as Omniture, Google Analytics, page views, time on site, and other measurements?  Isn’t it time for companies to begin mapping social media efforts to specific business goals to create new metrics of success that they can even find in qualitative results?

DANDEKAR – Absolutely. I think that’s where the rubber hits the road, when you can actually combine your business data with social data and then convert that into meaningful insights. That’s where you really starting getting meaningful social ROI.  You talked about Google metrics and others.  I think it’s there but I wouldn’t look at it as social ROI but rather as return on investment on your content management or web assets.  If you’re looking for social ROI, you need to make sure you’ve done the right things to get your sentiment analysis right and that you’re taking those results and converting them into something meaningful. 

You talked about social metrics. Not many of the solutions out there are really accurate in terms of social metrics because they may not calculate it in the right way.  They’re only looking at pure sentiment, which can be positive, negative, neutral, but what if I can add in additional attributes into the sentiment analysis which say, I’m not only looking for sentiment, but who talked about it, where did he talk about it, is he an influential person in the industry, how relevant is the conversation. So if I add these kinds of vectors or attributes to the conversation, that suddenly becomes more impactful and more measureable as compared to just doing pure sentiment analysis. I think there are ways of looking at social ROI that people need to start looking at. 

And we talk about sentiment analysis as being myth, because there’s no way to truly measure sarcasm and I think that’s one area that’s ripe for disruption. Someone somewhere is going to figure out sarcasm by demographics and that can become a big business in itself. There are many companies that are moving in that direction today. 

McCOLLAM – Can we really qualify sentiment analysis as myth?  When your customers ask how can I make sentiment analysis better, how important is this in the context of business insights?  We know that there’s extraordinary capability on different platforms today that allows for true qualitative metrics thresholds into better biz performance, and insights and more efficiencies that’s are built into qualitative findings through sentiment analysis. That many companies are beginning to see that the qualitative insights that they can now begin to derive and associate with their strategic business goals are becoming very clear and real. So, don’t you think sentiment analysis is very relevant to business decisions?  That you can find extraordinary qualitative benefits to match your quantitative?

DANDEKAR – Absolutely.  I think that’s where people tend to use solutions out there in the market today and people who have used these solutions for 1 to 6 years quickly realize this isn’t an accurate sentiment analysis and that they need to take it to the next level.  But there is a big learning curve and unfortunately the learning curve is only happening after you’ve tried and tested a couple of solutions. 

McCOLLAM – Even though we hear a great deal about the value of social ROI on content marketing and CRM, we seem to hear fewer stories about the social ROI of innovation. Would you agree that social innovation is the new competitive frontier? 

DANDEKAR – Innovation is a very broad term.  Social innovation can take many different forms. For me social innovation means what more can I get out of my social data.  People are already talking about social selling, social profiling, social targeting. There are many new ways of using the social data with your business data to glean something actionable out of it.  Some of the larger enterprises that have made significant investments in social media are already starting to look at this and realize there are companies who are looking at social CRM as one of the big areas to double up on.  

I think social innovation will continue. It’s one thing to derive sentiment analysis from text and blogs posted on websites, but there are also ways of gleaning social analysis from facial expressions, or looking at the video and saying this customer is really interested in taking the next step in buying the product based on his facial expressions I captured from his expressions.  There’s a lot of research happening there.  I don’t think we have fully exploited the potential of social media analytics.

McCOLLAM – In your assisting customers in setting up social media command centers, have you come across this issue of social innovation, are Dell consultants advising on more nebulous qualitative, innovative insights that might have innovation potential?

DANDEKAR – Absolutely, We have a professional services team at Dell. Setting up command centers is just one thing they do.  The broader impact they provide is being able to set up a social media strategy for a company, being able to educate some of the key stakeholders on the value of social media. Instituting a social media education program in the company to help cultivate brand advocates is another example of how our professional services team is delivering value to our customers.

McCOLLAM – Could one argue that Dell invented the concept and business proposition of social media consulting? 

DANDEKAR – I’m pretty sure there are other competitors out there who can claim the same thing.  Dell is among the first companies to realize the potential of social media analytics based on our 7-year journey and what we have done is take those learnings and package it as a solution.  Another example is our SMAC University (Social Media and Communities University) that we’ve set up internally within Dell, where we go and educate our own employees on the use of social media, how to convert people into social media advocates for your brand. That’s something we’ve set up within Dell.  Even the ability to take this program and offer it to our customers has raised the bar for people to start adopting social media.

McCOLLAM – That’s an extraordinary power of example.  You’ve cultivated the petrie dish within Dell to test concept and leverage for your clients.

McCOLLAM – Wrapping up, this is a broad sweeping question. Define for me what you feel is the human factor in the process of big data business and intelligence.  As much automation and extraordinary platforms we have for advanced NLP data analytics, what is the human factor in the process of big data analysis?  What can we tell our audience about the skill sets that are needed by the social media analysts and data scientists of the future?

DANDEKAR – I think your reference to the human aspect of big data analytics leaves a very big role on how you define and set your entire data analytics strategy.   I think the human aspect is key.  There are many tools and technologies out there but you need the right skills and talent to be able to pick the right tool.  And further, to be able to take the tools and then be able to convert the data into something meaningful.  There’s a big need for data scientists today, that’s pretty evident. 

But at the same time, we’re also seeing another revolution.  While there is big pent up demand for data scientists, there is also big demand primarily coming from line of business customers, and some of the smaller size customers who don’t have the budgets or capability to buy these exotic tools to do data analysis.  They’re really looking for some simple ways of converting data into meaningful insights.  I think there still is an underserved community and represents a big opportunity for companies to innovate. There are probably ways to innovate and circumvent the need to bring in data scientists. There may be easier ways to deliver the algorithms and insights using simple tools.  I don’t think this has been solved yet.

McCOLLAM – And that ‘s where Dell comes in. Where are you headed in the future? 

DANDEKAR – I’m not sure how many people are aware of this, but we now have a software organization within Dell and BI/Analytics is one of the business units with our software organization.  Our goal is to make the data management cycle easier for our customers.  We offer data management, data integration and data analytics capabilities to our customers to help them make the journey toward actionable insights easier.  We’ve built core capabilities in this area.  Social media is just one small part of the picture. The broader strategy is how do I make the information life cycle management for my customers simple.  What are the critical things I need to enable my customer with so that I can eventually build a strong data analytical platform for my customers?

McCOLLAM – You certainly are at the cutting edge of culture shift. You and your Dell team are to be congratulated! Thank you!  

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