Involved in predictive analytics and data mining for two decades, Dudley Gwaltney is the manager of the predictive analytics team in the Marketing Information Group of SunTrust Bank, a top 15 financial institution headquartered in Atlanta.
With a background on both the consulting and client side, Dudley has extensive experience in a wide array of data mining areas, including predictive modeling, segmentation, implementation and maintenance of data repositories, and program analysis.
Dudley works with SunTrust’s marketing and product management departments to improve overall performance to enhance existing direct targeting programs and creating new ones. Currently Dudley’s team is implementing a real-time data repository of all client interactions with SunTrust. These include online, mobile and tablet banking, branch, integrated voice response (IVR), call center, clickstream data from SunTrust.com, and outbound direct marketing. This data will be used for real-time predictive analytics, understanding client preferences, and omni-channel analytics to mention a few.
Trent Smith: You have degrees from North Carolina State University in Business Management and Economics, but “just” a minor in Computer Science. How has that background led to a career where analytics is central to your role?
Dudley Gwaltney: After graduating from NC State in 1983 with degrees in Business Management and Economics, I returned to school in the early 1990’s and completed NC State’s two-year Computer Science Certificate program. The program consisted of over 30 hours of course work and was closer to a minor in Computer Science than a full major. Shortly after completing the program, I joined a small, startup consulting firm that specialized in applying data mining and predictive analytics with marketing.
The certificate and the knowledge it gave me have proven invaluable in my career. I realized pretty quickly that the ability to manage data and understanding how data is processed was crucial to data mining. At the consulting firm, we were receiving datasets of over a million records, which at the time was almost unheard.
Having an understanding of computer science and data management is even more crucial today than it was when I started 20 years ago. We are dealing with datasets in the billions. The environment for storing data has evolved from basic databases to database appliances and non-structured data on Hadoop. Data miners no longer access well-established data systems but are creating their own environments for managing data and performing analytics.
Trent Smith: What advice would you give someone coming from a business background who wants to add analytics expertise?
Dudley Gwaltney: First, get to know those involved with analytics. If your organization doesn’t have an analytics group, then see if there is a local SAS user group where you will be able to find people involved with analytics.
Second, explore the educational opportunities in your area. A master’s degree in an analytics-related field has become a requirement for many advanced analytics positions. Luckily for me that was not the case when I started in the profession. More and more universities nationwide are offering programs in advanced analytics, there are now three in Atlanta.
Trent Smith: What advice would you give to high school or college students who are considering an analytics career?
Dudley Gwaltney: There is a misconception that a degree in statistics is the basis for a career in analytics. Today’s advanced analytics requires a combination of statistics, data management, and an understanding of business. The best schools for advanced analytics focus on all those areas, not just statistics.
In my opinion, the number one skill for any analyst is what I call “intellectual curiosity”. Good analysts want to find the answer and will acquire the skills and tools necessary to do so. Unfortunately it is hard to quantify intellectual curiosity. I have seen people with great resumes and background that are very poor analysts because they don’t have intellectual curiosity. On the other hand, I know several great analysts that did not have a great resume but have a strong intellectual curiosity.
Additionally, a great skill to hone is the ability to communicate technical information to the non-technical. Most leaders of organizations do not want to know how the details of the analysis, but how the analysis will solve the problems they are facing. Those that can communicate the value of analytics are the ones that provide the most value to their organizations.
Trent Smith: Being based in Atlanta, where do you seek out analytics talent for SunTrust?
Dudley Gwaltney: Atlanta has become a hot bed for analytics talent and demand. Three local universities offer masters related to advanced analytics, Kennesaw State, Georgia State, and Georgia Tech all offer masters. Additionally, the MBA program at Emory University offers a concentration in Marketing Analytics.
While the number of advanced analytics graduates is growing in the Atlanta, The demand for those graduates locally continues to grow. Atlanta is headquarters to several large corporations that require analytic skills, Delta Airlines, Cox Cable, Coca Cola, Equifax, Synchrony Bank, Southern Companies, and SunTrust to name a few.
The positions on my team all require experience in advanced analytics, especially predictive analytics. I’ve hired analysts from within SunTrust and outside our organization from either consulting firms or other financial institutions.
Trent Smith: What role do you think analytics companies should play in helping to close the analytics skills gap?
Dudley Gwaltney: SunTrust, like many companies, is partnering with local universities to support their advanced analytics programs. As recently as 10 years ago, there were only a handful of universities that had programs specializing in advanced analytics, including my alma mater NC State. Now, more and more universities have or are planning to start advanced analytics programs.
These programs actively look to partner with local businesses with large analytics organizations. Not only do the universities want to expose their students to career opportunities but, more importantly, they want to make sure they are preparing their students for businesses’ fast changing analytics needs.
Also, companies should look internally for team members that have the desire to get involved in analytics. These employees know the business and with training, education and encouragement can become valuable analytical assets.
Trent Smith: How should organizations keep analysts challenged and engaged?
Dudley Gwaltney: I’ll touch on a few things organizations need to do to keep analysts challenged and engaged. As I said before, the number one characteristic of a good analyst is intellectual curiosity. Good analysts are always looking for new problems to solve and new ways to solve them. Analysts want opportunities to learn and utilize new methods. Good analysts flock to organizations that provide those opportunities, and leave those that don’t.
Secondly, analytics is not reporting. Reporting is showing how many widgets were sold. Analytics is understanding who bought the widgets, why they bought the widgets, who is most likely to buy another widget and when, which channels do customers prefer to buy the widgets, will they buy something other than a widget, and many more questions.
Finally, good analysts want to be involved in the organization’s decision making process. They want to know that their input is valuable and their work crucial to the direction of the organization. They don’t want to produce an analysis that leadership will use to make decisions; they want to be at the leadership table explaining the findings of the analysis and working with leadership on how best to act on these findings.
Trent Smith: Financial services companies have traditionally been at the forefront of using analytics. What exciting opportunities might analytics experts see in the future?
Dudley Gwaltney: Traditionally when clients wanted to talk to their bank, they either went to a branch or called their local banker. This is no longer the case. The three top channels where clients access the bank are online banking, mobile banking, and ATM; none of which require the client to speak directly with us. But, they are still talking to us through what they do through those channels.
Our challenge is to utilize analytics to understand what our clients are saying to us when they are not talking with us directly and how do we respond. The response is not always, “You’re approved for a credit card”. They are still looking for us to provide good service and solid advice. We have to make sure we can do it in all channels.
Trent Smith: What’s the coolest or most impactful thing you’ve done or seen done, using analytics?
Dudley Gwaltney: Several years ago, I built a group of models predicting deposit balance augmentation and diminishment to help our branches better manage deposit clients. The program was extremely successful and within a few years the incremental lift associated with the models topped one billion dollars. It’s not often you get to put a billion of anything on your list of accomplishments.
Check out these previous posts in the Analytics Skills Gap Series
- Maryanne Schretzman, executive director of the New York City Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI)
- Edgar Enciso and Emmett Cox of BBVA Compass
- Kimberly Holmes, Senior Vice President, Strategic Analytics at XL Group
- Steve Doig, investigative reporter and educator at Arizona State University
- Jeremy TerBush, vice president of global analytics for Wyndham Exchange & Rentals
- MaryAnne DePesquo, a health analytics manager at BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona
- Mark Malchiodi, a SAS programmer for a large insurance carrier
- Tao Hong, lead of the Energy Analytics Research Laboratory within the Energy Production Infrastructure Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Allison Jones-Farmer, a professor at Miami University of Ohio
- John Taylor, data analyst for the Inland Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife