Big data, big deal: What 7 Chicago data teams are working on right now

by Alton Zenon III
October 3, 2018

Big data is oftentimes talked about like it’s magic, but behind the curtains are talented teams ensuring that everything works like it’s supposed to. And as with any emerging field, teams are made up of experts with backgrounds as divergent as the types of information they work with.

We spoke to data leads at seven Chicago companies about the varied backgrounds that make up their teams, and what exciting projects they’re working on at the moment.

 

Tempus data team photo outdoors
image via tempus

Tempus helps physicians fight cancer by providing them with access to its database of scientific and clinical research, as well as its data analytics operating system. Lead Data Scientist Ash Hafez said his team is diverse, but that their appreciation for data keeps them all on the same page.

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

We were looking to build a diverse team, drawn from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences, yet sharing a natural curiosity for answers and a common love of data. Each team member brings their own unique perspective to the problems we’re tackling, which in combination drives the team as a whole toward better solutions.

Each team member brings their own unique perspective to the problems we’re tackling.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on with big data?

One of the most exciting projects involves the development of a modeling framework that brings together the Tempus repository of clinical and molecular data to automatically highlight groups of cancer patients that seemingly respond much better than would be expected, along with an interactive dashboard to further inspect the survival and driving attributes of these cohorts, potentially leading to key clinical insights.

 

HAVI data team posing in their office
image via havi

HAVI provides a number of services to international companies, including packaging, logistics and supply chain management, as well as marketing analytics solutions, particularly in the restaurant industry. Jeanette Shutay, director of analytics solutions, said the company’s two data teams are working on predictive analytics tools they can use to gain insight into customer behavior.

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

We have two teams that work collaboratively to take big data and transform it into actionable insights for customers. In the advanced analytics group, most of our team members have advanced degrees in quantitative sciences and some have experience in computer science. In consulting, team members tend to be trained in business analytics, marketing or supply chain optimization. Across these two teams, we apply the full scientific method and data science lifecycle to solve real-world business problems.

 

We have two teams that work collaboratively to take big data and transform it into actionable insights for customers.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

We’re managing and analyzing data for one of the largest restaurant chains on a global scale. We utilize data going back as far as 2011, combined with promotion variables to predict future performance of other promotions and optimize them. We’re also enhancing our ability to predict the future performance of promotional offers. We developed our retail location segmentation framework, then we applied unsupervised machine learning algorithms to identify segmentations of locations, which we leverage to develop a better understanding of consumers and how they will respond to specific marketing promotions.

 

Lumere data team posing outdoors
image via lumere

Lumere, formerly Procured Health, offers hospitals a platform that allows them to make data-driven decisions about the devices they use and the drugs they prescribe in efforts to reduce costs and improve quality of care. Jerry Claghorn, data analysis manager, said he and his team are currently leveraging big data to prevent costly brand-name drugs from being needlessly prescribed in place of equally effective generics.

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

Our data teams include individuals from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including computer science, economics and ecology. Some joined straight out of school, others worked in healthcare and technology companies, and some came from unrelated industries but with a passion for our mission.

Our data teams include individuals from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, including computer science, economics and ecology.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

One of our solutions shows pharmacy leaders how the money they spend on drugs is used to treat patients in their hospitals. We use electronic health record data to reveal to pharmacy leaders areas where an expensive brand-name drug is being used where a clinically equivalent generic is available. Finding this connection requires weaving in public data, proprietary data generated by internal research teams and, of course, the client’s data.

 

Label Insight team in conference room working
image via label insight

Label Insight gives retailers and manufacturers tools for giving customers more transparency about ingredients featured in the packaged goods they offer. Brooke Bright, director of data strategy and solutions, said her team is comprised of individuals with experience related to food, art and the human body.

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

With backgrounds ranging from dietitians, nutritionists, regulatory experts, food scientists, formulation chemists and estheticians, we make an odd group of nerds. The individuals who are most successful on this team foster a true passion for health and wellness at their core and an eagerness and openness to learn about technology, and they thrive off lifelong learning.

The individuals who are most successful on this team foster a true passion for health and wellness at their core.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

Understanding the universe of high-order attributes across retailers today and strategically enabling these differentiated programs through a taxonomical approach to product label data. It’s very rewarding to be part of such a project — it elevated the level of transparency consumers have access to, allowing us to make data-driven decisions and more easily find products that align with our needs.

 

Vivid Seats data team looking at laptop
image via vivid seats

Vivid Seats is an online marketplace for sports, music and events tickets. Director of Analytics Timothy Knapp said his team is currently working on a wide variety of undertakings, for their own benefit and that of their customers. 

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

The data team covers a broad range of backgrounds from marketing on the business side all the way to particle physics on the technical end. The route each team member took is unique and it’s the combination of skills that makes us successful. We’ve built careers as educators, researchers, software developers and consultants on our way to finding a home here.

We’ve built careers as educators, researchers, software developers and consultants on our way to finding a home here.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

Right now we are focused on marketing analytics, including customer clustering and price-driven behavioral modeling using statistical models and machine learning techniques, to help our customers find events they love at a great price. We’re also working on data engineering focused on organizing information from across the web into structures accessible by users, and mining our data to quantify interesting phenomena like The LeBron Effect.

 

Pareto Intelligence team posing in their office
image via Pareto Intelligence

Pareto Intelligence helps healthcare providers improve their financial capabilities using data-based tools, like risk management solutions and predictive models. Data Science Manager David Thompson said his team is working on a project that transcends merely assisting the company’s clients. 

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

While having a thorough understanding of the healthcare industry is hugely important, we also look for team members who can bring insights from other industries. In addition to experience across all areas of healthcare, the team’s backgrounds include pure mathematics, biology and the physical sciences, economics, finance, biostatistics, actuarial science, retail analytics, insurance and even sports analytics.

We are using big data to identify and interpret the effects of certain socio-environmental factors on a person’s overall health.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

We are using big data to identify and interpret the effects of certain socio-environmental factors on a person’s overall health, their likelihood to visit a doctor regularly, what prescriptions they are taking, and the unique ways they use their health insurance benefits. This is our most interesting project because it not only uncovers insights we use to help our clients, but also helps us to understand how supporting the communities we live in can affect the physical well-being of the people who live there.

 

Networked Insights team photo at outing
image via networked insights

Networked Insights gives marketers social media analytics tools they can use to develop campaigns and better understand their customers. Bryce Lobdell, data architect, said mixing old and current methodologies is a key part of what his team is currently working on. 

 

What backgrounds do the members of your data team have?

Everyone has experience in some combination of software engineering, math and statistics and machine learning — though each individual’s emphasis and journey varies greatly. My academic background is in electrical engineering, which includes signal processing, random processes and machine learning, which has since been augmented with software and data engineering experience. Everyone has their own story of what they acquired in an academic setting versus on the job.

Everyone has their own story of what they acquired in an academic setting versus on the job.”

 

What is the most interesting project your team is currently taking on?

The most interesting line of research to me is making more sophisticated text classifiers, which derive more information from linguistic structure. Bag of words-based approaches, convolutional neural networks and other relatively simple things have been attractive before because they perform well despite their simplicity to implement and train. However, there are several deep neural net structures which are now accessible, which we would like to exploit and hopefully delight our customers to a greater degree.

 

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