Don't Confuse Business Intelligence With Real Data Science, Says AOL Platforms Chief Tech Officer

Outspoken Tech Vet Says Very Different 'Data' Practices Are Getting Confused

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As Seth Dempsey staffs up to integrate Verizon and AOL tech, he's finding that 'data science' on a resume sometimes doesn't mean what he thinks.
As Seth Dempsey staffs up to integrate Verizon and AOL tech, he's finding that 'data science' on a resume sometimes doesn't mean what he thinks.
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It wasn't long after the ink dried on the Verizon acquisition of AOL before Seth Demsey formed a plan to make the companies' technology work together.

"I had a team of engineers in my office the day the deal closed," said the AOL Platforms chief technology officer. "We're not waiting."

But as Mr. Demsey, a veteran in the field, seeks additional staff to fuel what he expects to be a continual process of building tools and integrating technologies, the term "data science" on prospective employee's resume doesn't always mean what he thinks it should.

People sometimes confuse business intelligence with data science, Mr. Demsey said. Although cloud computing and open sourced frameworks have served to democratize data science, there's a big difference between using data to create charts and graphs and actually combining and transforming data, the work of a data scientist, he said. Data science is predictive while oftentimes business intelligence employs backward-looking data, he added.

"Where these two meet is where it's getting confusing," he said. "But part of me also thinks that this is the golden age of data science."

Mr. Demsey has served in management roles at Google and Microsoft, and worked as a computational researcher at NASA earlier in his career.

He declined to elaborate on just what he and his growing team of data scientists, mathematicians, engineers, user interface designers and product developers have up their sleeves, but one thing is clear: It will likely involve a lot of data integration.

Verizon has access to a constant stream of mobile location and behavior data that could enhance AOL's ability to segment audiences, target ads and measure conversion in digital and real-world channels. It doesn't hurt that AOL bought cross-channel attribution firm Convertro last year, another deal that had Mr. Demsey thinking ahead. Indeed, he said the data management platform he helped develop, part of AOL's ONE programmatic ad system, was designed to incorporate Convertro's technology even before the acquisition was official.

"I'm not saying we didn't have backup plans … but you need to make bets," he said.

"The reality is mix and attribution are on a collision course. This is a CMO thing; this isn't a D.R. thing anymore," he said, referring to the fact that marketing chiefs have become as concerned with conversion rates as direct response advertisers always were.

Expect the sophisticated marketer's increasing focus on connecting digital and offline dots to factor in heavily to the integration of AOL and Verizon. "We're in the process right now of putting things together in a way that is authentic and makes sense," he said, noting Verizon's "human, technology, customers and data."

"It's a continuum. It's never going to be over."