Available content from the conference is now on our YouTube Channel.


The 2017 Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) conference held on May 11 in Philadelphia demonstrated how customer analytics can drive value for organizations across all industries. This year’s event featured thought leaders from companies including Fast Forward Labs, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Netflix, IBM Watson, Teradata, Comcast, and MLB Advanced Media. Building on WCAI’s focus on real-world applications, the 2017 conference added a half-day of technical workshops providing attendees with hands-on training on topics such as: Applied Predictive Modeling, “Is My Advertising Working?” and an Intro To Python.

The Dean of The Wharton School, Geoff Garrett, kicked off the event by pointing to how innovative companies like Uber, Tesla, and Flatiron Health (the latter two founded by Wharton graduates) are leveraging real-time data collection and analytics to transform industries, while simultaneously tackling societal problems like urban congestion, sustainability, and cancer treatment. In his words, “doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive, which can happen with support from data.” 

The tone for the day was set by Keynote speaker Hilary Mason, Founder and CEO of Fast Forward Labs, with her very practical definition of analytics: “making data useful for solving real problems.” At Fast Forward Labs, Hilary advises established enterprises and select startups on data technologies, and she shared some of their “real problems” through case studies on insurance (where data goes back to the 1800s), tax accounting (where GAAP checklists have thousands of items), and more. Regardless of industry or application, Hilary highlighted the importance of clearly defining: (1) an achievable problem, (2) how to measure a successful solution, and (3) immediate next steps.

Building off Hilary’s theme, the conference speakers dove into the details of some of the “real problems” their companies have solved using customer analytics. Here’s a brief summary of key takeaways:

  • Zachery Anderson, Electronic Arts – Humanize the data, focus on customer decision-making, and not just the model
  • Shawndra Hill, Microsoft – One media channel can cause traffic on another channel, which makes measuring ad effectiveness more complicated (but still solvable)
  • Gary W. Class, Wells Fargo – Customer Efficiency segmentation reveals that the optimal goal is not always to sell more, but to move users to a state of higher engagement
  • Betty Li, Netflix – Netflix leverages 600B daily events to create not one, but 100M+ versions of Netflix tailored to the customer
  • Ari Sheinkin, IBM – Marketing is about people and individuals, data and analytics are merely tools to learn about them
  • Ravi Kandikonda, Comcast – Get your data in order first, if your data isn’t credible and the analysis isn’t repeatable, the solution is worthless
  • Matt Horton, MLB Advanced Media – Start by testing small, don’t try to solve the world’s problems out of the gate

As demonstrated by the over 200 attendees from 120 organizations, customer analytics continue to be a critical driver of value across a wide range of industries. By making data useful for solving real problems, new insights can drive better strategic and tactical business decisions directly leading to increased competitive advantage.

Available content from the conference is now on our YouTube Channel.