Beth Comstock: Learning To Ride The Data Wave

Beth Comstock: Learning To Ride The Data Wave

GE's chief marketing officer says there are things to love about data even if you're from a non-technical background.

Beth Comstock, General Electric
  • 27 december 2013

Data Science for Business Leaders

If you don’t like data, you’re not going to like the future. That’s because there’s a giant digital wave that’s overtaking us, with information flooding in all around. We can channel this information to improve decision-making and help businesses become more efficient, but only if we have a working knowledge of data science.

Zero Unplanned Downtime

Data science. It’s a term that sends chills down the spine of even the most capable executives, particularly ones who, like me, come from non-technical backgrounds. So it’s helpful to think about why data will be so useful to us. Most big businesses have already wrung efficiencies from process-driven, just-in-time models. The advantage of data is that it tells us what we don’t know – it can help us pluck trends out of the seeming chaos of customer behavior or tell us how equipment is performing in real time. It helps us find ways to keep machines humming and strive for the new nirvana – “zero unplanned downtime”. Zero unplanned downtime basically means things work when they are supposed to. Machines alert us before a problem arises so we can act accordingly – presumably so we can have more time working toward market growth and having people like our products even more than we imagined.

Finding the Signal

But that data is going to be useful only if we know how to tease out the signal. As Kellogg School of Management professor Florian Zettlemeyer told us at GE’s Minds and Machines conference, the Industrial Internet is going to challenge managers because they’ll need to understand analytics, know what questions to ask and be able to link cause and effect. Data is to us what accounting was to a previous generation of business leaders. “Analytics is becoming the new balance sheet in terms of what we need to know,” he said.

Can’t we just hire data scientists to take care of data science? Yes, we can and will. But for leaders, the key is going to be setting strategic goals. A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly pointed out that any move to integrate data into a business will falter without well-defined priorities and benchmarks. Support from the C-Suite and a commitment to train mid-level managers who can think through challenges using data are critical to setting a winning strategy.

Data scientist Jeremy Howard, formerly of Kaggle, believes his profession can solve new problems not only through machine learning tools but also with creativity, open-mindedness and tenacity. But first, he notes, “It starts with knowing the objective you’re trying to solve and what are the constraints.”

Don’t Get Washed Away

I confess, I’ve only learned to love data over time. Now, I function as a much better marketer with analytics, visualizations and models that help bring to life connections that before weren’t obvious. With the emergence of the Industrial Internet, as some 50 billion machines come online, a flood of information is about to touch every aspect of business. But it also requires understanding what questions to ask. My advice to business leaders is this: try to get comfortable with data, but you must learn what questions to ask or risk getting washed away.

Beth Comstock is chief marketing officer at General Electric


Garmin's New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

Work Today

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Today

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Automotive Today

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Fitness / Sport Today

Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Cognition Kit is a software platform that lets people track and better understand their cognitive states

Augmented / Virtual Reality Today

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear

Advertising Today

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Today

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs Today

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Syndicated Yesterday

What Could The Highway Of The Future Look Like?

As technology for automated vehicles improves, there’s a sharper focus on building a ‘smarter’ infrastructure where they can thrive

Design Yesterday

Plastic Wind Trees Are Bringing Sustainable Power To Residential Homes

These French-made turbines are offering a small, aesthetically pleasing approach to affordable personal energy

Home Yesterday

Dyson’s Wi-Fi Connected Fan Purifies, Cools & Heats The Air

The new luxury home appliance aims to be an all-in-one device for the connected home

Education Yesterday

Bringing Virtual Reality And Telepresence Robotics To E-Learning

This Learning Management System is embracing new technologies to reallocate teaching resources to where they should be going

Advertising Yesterday

Brewing Company Turns Car Emissions Into Ink

Tiger Beer has created a sustainable process to transform air pollution into supplies for street art


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Design Yesterday

Space-Saving Sofa Has Extra Furniture Hidden Inside

Living in an apartment with limited space? This three-in-one bed transforms based on your needs

Culture Yesterday

Browser Extension Blocks Any Pages That Make You Unhappy

The software can detect your facial movements and prevent content that brings up negative emotions

Automotive Yesterday

Reserve Your Parking Spot Before You Even Get Behind The Wheel

A new Ford app allows drivers to select and arrange for a space in a garage to be available at the end of their journey, so they can travel worry-free

No search results found.