Information Builders: A new chapter in business intelligence
Industry 4.0 is here, and it is driven by data. As the world comes to recognize the undeniable power of data to detect trends, improve efficiency and predict the future, the business intelligence (BI) and analytics industry continues to innovate and scale, in order to fully realize the potential benefits of the information age. Founded over 40 years ago, Information Builders is one of the world’s largest BI, data integration and data quality solutions companies worldwide. Headquartered in New York City, the firm is on the verge of a bold new chapter in its story as it prepares to dramatically grow in size and elevate its brand to the next level. We sat down with Information Builders’ Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Michael Corcoran, to discuss his career in the BI space, new ways to deploy data and analytics, and the future of the business as an industry leader. “We're re-birthing a company that started all of this, back in the 1970s, when it was a very different world. Now, we’re creating a company for the next generation,” Corcoran explains. “It’s much more competitive today than ever. 60 years ago, the average life expectancy of a company was about 75 years. In 2015, it was 15. We have to move more quickly. We have to take advantage.”
Corcoran’s career in IT started in the 1980s working for a leading US aircraft manufacturer. “I worked in the supply chain for the US Navy making fighter jets”, he recalls. “Top Gun came out whilst I was working there and they actually held a special screening at our company. It was really cool, and taught me a lot about the supply chain.” The rapidly advancing art of data analytics is, to Corcoran, as exciting as building an F-14 Tomcat, and closely linked with the changing generational attitudes to technology. “They’re looking for something different and they’re behaving differently. They want to walk to restaurants and bars. They don't own cars; they don't want to own cars. I think that generation is adopting technology. They don't fear it. They crave it, “Corcoran explains, “and that’s exciting to me because I’ve always craved it.”
Despite the speed at which data analytics tools are advancing, Corcoran believes that adoption across the business community is far too low. “Only 10% of organizations are using predictive analytics in production applications – only 10%. Overall, there is about a 35% adoption of BI analytics, and for tools it’s only about 17%. Why? Because, companies don’t trust their data. How do you build predictive outcomes on data you know is wrong to begin with? You don't. It’s a waste of time,” he says. The fallibility of gathered data is the largest obstacle standing in the way of mass BI analytics adoption, according to Corcoran, which is why Information Builders’ platform seeks to address the problem for the consumer. “We’ve taken responsibility for data quality and mastering the data as part of the BI Analytic platform,” he says. In addition to ensuring data quality at a ground level, Information Builders’ platform is also designed to be highly scalable. “It’s kind of our secret sauce,” says Corcoran. “People who can scale analytics tend to enjoy much greater growth. Companies that use analytics in data more effectively are faster growing companies. Their stock performs better, their employees perform better. As well as the longevity of customers.”
With regard to employee performance and the more effective leveraging of data, Corcoran wants to see a change in the way companies grant access to their analytics. “How do you scale adoption throughout the organization to find the value?” Corcoran has found that, for the most part, data passes from analysts to management’s dashboards without being exposed to anyone lower in the organization. “Analysts ask the hard questions and they publish the results typically in the form of dashboard back to management. Management needs their dashboards. This process represents about 90% of all the effort and investment in the world of analytics right now. However, it’s not the most valuable thing we could be doing,” Corcoran explains. “It’s an interesting conversation I often have with CEOs to make them understand that they are not necessarily the most valuable person in this process. They need good information and insight to steer the ship, but management need information to set policy and to create goals. Those policies typically take about 12 to 24 months before they start to impact the bottom line of a large organization. There are things you can do lower in the organization that have a more immediate impact on the bottom line.”
For Information Builders, BI should be pervasive both within and without the company. “What we like to do is expand the conversation beyond what everyone is doing and bring it down lower into your organization. Pervasiveness is about bringing analytics insight to every employee, out to every business partner and even using it to create a different digital relationship with your customer.” Corcoran believes that, in 2019, companies owe their customers “some form of digital transformation – it's not just internal,it’s how you interact externally.” As a 2mn mile lifetime member at American Airlines, Corcoran points to the company’s end of year summary as an example of expanding analytics to the customer. “At the end of the year they sent me an infographic that told me my story. I flew 98,000 miles and my most common destination was Frankfurt, Germany, which I didn’t realize. It's pretty cool when you’re told something that you didn't know about your own life. It was really compelling. Then, take that to the next level and I think it’s really a clever way to get people to another level of, not only user adoption, but customer loyalty.”
In addition to changing the way that companies deploy their data and analytics, with the appointment of its new CEO, Frank Vella, Information Builders is going through a bold new transformation. “I believe we could be a really top brand name and lead the market,” says Corcoran. Since joining the company in November 2017, Vella has led the digital transformation of several areas of the business, including product, innovation, marketing, sales and channels. He also oversaw the launch of WebFOCUS, the company’s flagship analytics platform. “We have the biggest deployments in the world but nobody knows it because the company has been privately held,” says Corcoran. “Well, now we’re a Goldman Sachs-backed company. We've got a brand-new leadership management team hand-picked from the industry. We’re going to grow more aggressively, but I think what’s more exciting is that we’re going to be a leader in the innovation of new technologies. We’ve always had some of the smartest people and we’re still introducing more, and for me that’s really exciting. I want to see the company double or triple in size and I believe that now it can.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.