Exclusive - Teradata Chief Analytics Officer Bill Franks Talks Analytics and Angry Birds

Exclusive - Teradata Chief Analytics Officer Bill Franks Talks Analytics and Angry Birds

Bill Franks is an internationally recognized analytics and big data thought leader, speaker, executive, author and the Chief Analytics Officer for Teradata. He started the organization as a Partner in the Advanced Business Analytics group and has held a number of different senior level analytics positions over the last 12 years. Bill’s work has spanned Fortune 100 companies across multiple industries to non-profit organizations.

icrunchdata talks with analytics thought leaders about their career in analytics and who they are outside of the data. We recently spoke with Bill about his career at Teradata, Angry Birds and 6 hours in Atlanta.

Bill, thanks for joining us today and let’s get started…

You started with Teradata in May, 2003 and have held a number of different senior level analytics positions with the organization over the last 12 years. What has been the biggest shift at Teradata since you started with the company?

There are a couple of things.  First, there has been tremendous expansion in the breadth and depth of Teradata’s offerings. These reflect the massive changes in demand from the marketplace. I don’t think most people realize how diversified our product and services portfolio is today, especially if they haven’t taken a look at us in a couple of years.

We also continue to make a shift toward focusing on solving business problems as opposed to providing technology. Our consulting services have grown immensely over the years as a result and we now routinely work with business people as well as IT.

You have been the Chief Analytics Officer at Teradata for the last two years. How has your role changed and evolved in that time?

The process of educating our clients on what we can do to support their analytics needs has required continual evolution. In many cases, a new development in one area actually has implications beyond which aren’t always obvious until it is explained. For example, many people think of our Unified Data Architecture (UDA) as a technology offering. While that’s not untrue, the implications the UDA has for how you’d best build and deploy analytics on top of our ecosystem are vast. You can’t look at it in isolation. We constantly have to ensure our messaging around analytics contains the latest updates and implications.

You recently posted an article about you and your kids attending The Hour of Code titled, “What Angry Birds Can Teach Us About Analytics” The initiative is to introduce children to the world of programming and you discussed your ‘aha’ moment when you realized that you had no idea what programming language was actually being submitted behind the scenes and that it really didn’t matter. Do you think that your kids also had an ‘aha’ moment about programming and what programming actually is?

That’s actually what I loved about The Hour of Code. My kids were enjoying learning the concepts behind programming without being bogged down by picky syntax details. Once you grasp the concepts (the hard part) it is pretty easy to learn specific syntax details to support the concepts. My kids now get the concepts generically and can apply them in the future to any language or environment they choose to.

You concluded in the article that Teradata and a number of other companies are working to simplify the analytic ecosystem by allowing analytics professionals to focus on the logic and not worry about what is going on behind the scenes. How do you see this evolving in the next five years?

Today, I see organizations making their analytic ecosystems much more complex than they used to be. A wide range of new platforms and toolsets are now available, many of which serve specific needs. There is nothing wrong with this if it is cost effective and also necessary to handle the various types of data and analytic processing required.  However, it is a nightmare for users if they have to bounce around between many disparate systems, code in many different languages, and move a lot of data around manually.

Teradata is moving toward the UDA I mentioned previously which helps abstract the user from the underlying complexity. We allow users to see data across multiple systems from one entry point. And, they can create analytic logic against all of that data. On the back end, our technology takes care of routing requests to the right place and consolidating the results. In effect, users focus on their analytic logic first and foremost without worrying about the plumbing. It is very much analogous to my blog points about The Hour of Code which is why I find our approach compelling.

If you were told today that you had to follow a completely different career path outside of technology and data, what would it be?

I’d be an educator of some sort.  I consider most of what I do each day to really be a form of teaching and educating. It is actually one of my favorite parts of what I do.

You are based out of Atlanta so for someone that has never visited there before, let’s say I only have six hours in Atlanta and its noon on a Saturday. Where do I go, where do I eat and what should I definitely check out?

The “official” top activities you’d see in travel guides would include the World of Coca Cola Museum, The Georgia Aquarium, the Martin Luther King Memorial, and perhaps a CNN tour. For food, you’d stop by The Varsity, which is a famous local fast food place.

One of my favorites, however, is to head east of the city and hike up Stone Mountain. It is effectively a very, very big rock. When you get to the top you have amazing views on a nice day. There are also gondola lifts up and down for those who can’t handle the steep hike as well as a lake and various other entertainment attractions within the park.

Okay, you are planning out your next family vacation, and it’s an epic 15 day road trip. Where do you go and what’s on the agenda?

I’d probably line up a route that takes us to a variety of amusement parks across a couple of states. We’d mix in some camping and hiking too.

Bill, I think we’ve covered a lot. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today about your role at Teradata and what we definitely need to check out the next time we are in Atlanta.

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