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AOL Platforms chief warns against muddling data

18/08/2015 by Alan Jarque

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The chief technology officer of AOL Platforms, Seth Demsey, has warned that data practices are getting confused and, as a result, are muddling the boundaries between business intelligence (BI) and data science.

Speaking about the worrying blurring of the lines, Mr Demsey says that people are increasingly confusing data science with BI. Data science, at its heart, is the process of combining and transforming data into new material that can provide insights; meanwhile, BI utilises information to create graphs and charts that provide simplistic and easy insights into trends. Whilst data science is often predictive, BI normally employs backward-looking data.

As cloud computing and open-sourced frameworks have prospered, so too has the ability for executives and employees to get their hands on data and gain insights. Mr Demsey suggests this has led many to believe they are adopting data science practices when, in fact, they are doing nothing more than creating visualisations of the information. “Where these two meet is where it's getting confusing. But part of me also thinks that this is the golden age of data science,” Mr Demsey said.

Having served in major management roles at both Microsoft and Google, Mr Demsey also worked for NASA early in his career as a computational researcher and is now gathering a team of engineers, mathematicians, scientists, product developers and user interface designers. Whilst declining to elaborate on the team's current work, it is expected to involve large amounts of data integration.

One of the areas of interest is Verizon’s constant steam of mobile behaviour and location information. Used correctly, this could provide AOL with a way to enhance its ad targeting, audience segmentation and conversion measurements between real-world and digital channels. Last year Convertro, the cross-channel attribution company, was bought by AOL. Mr Demsey agreed that one of his data management platforms had been developed to include Convertro’s technology, showing that he was thinking ahead of the game. “I'm not saying we didn't have backup plans … but you need to make bets,” he explained, adding: “The reality is mix and attribution are on a collision course. This is a CMO thing; this isn't a DR thing anymore.” This refers to the fact that marketing chiefs are now as involved in conversion rates as direct response advertisers are.

One thing is clear from Mr Demsey’s comments: differences between data science and BI remain. Companies wanting to put their data to its best use require both to really gain an edge.

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