U.S. Elections And Politics: Four Questions For The Data Miners

Stephanie Overby

Data analysis has been part of political campaigns for more than a century. As early as 1891, the chairman of the Republican National Committee spent two years painstakingly creating a file featuring the age, occupation, birthplace, residence and other relevant data for eligible voters.

But in-depth analysis of data is a much more recent advance, made possible by more affordable and effective analytics. Microtargeting emerged in 2004. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, what we now call Big Data took a more central role as processing power and analytics capabilities increased so that by 2012, data-driven campaigning was the norm.

In this election cycle, Big Data is a big deal, and it stands to become even more integral to American politics. We talked to four experts about the biggest advances this cycle, current challenges, voter opinions about data analysis and what lies ahead.

The Experts

Patrick Ruffini
Echelon Insights

Patrick Ruffini is a strategist, focused on data and technology’s impact on politics and business. He was among the first digital strategists in American politics, working for George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign and directing the Republican National Committee’s digital strategy in 2006. Ruffini has led technology efforts in three successive presidential cycles and advised clients around the world. He co-founded the political research and intelligence firm Echelon Insights in 2014 to merge opinion research and data analytics.

Matt Lackey
Vice President of Research and Development
Civis Analytics

Before taking over R&D at Civis Analytics, the consulting and services firm founded by Obama for America 2012’s Chief Analytics Officer Dan Wagner, Matt Lackey developed an analytics platform to help state and local campaigns make data-driven decisions as senior political strategist at the AFL-CIO. 

Elea McDonnell Feit
Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business

Elea McDonnell Feit’s research focuses on leveraging customer data to make better product design and advertising decisions, particularly when data is incomplete, unmatched or aggregated. Much of her career has focused on developing new quantitative methods and bringing them into practice, first working in product design at General Motors and most recently as the executive director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative.

Richard Skinner
Policy Analyst
The Sunlight Foundation

Before joining the Sunlight Foundation, Richard Skinner served as a research analyst for the Campaign Finance Institute and authored the book “More Than Money: Interest Group Action in Congressional Elections.” He is an expert on “dark money” and other campaign finance issues.

The Questions

1. What has been the biggest advance in the application of data analytics this election cycle?

Lackey: The biggest advance has been the emergence of technologies that automate the rote responsibilities of analysts [e.g., cleaning up data or creating standardized reports]. This has opened up the door for campaigns to spend more time on data-driven strategy—giving analysts more time to work on hard problems while also supplying campaign leadership with more transparency into the data.

Feit: A lot of the focus has been on polls and predicting election outcomes. But that’s not where the biggest impacts can happen. Some of the campaigns are working on how to measure how different types of marketing communication affect voters. That’s the type of analytics that will be super actionable. They’re making baby steps toward understanding, but in some ways they’re probably ahead of the private sector. The political folks have more pressure on them to move the needle forward with these messages. People who are selling diapers are going to be selling diapers this month and next month, and if the problem takes a little while to solve, it’s OK. The way election cycles work, campaigns have to figure this out now.

Ruffini: In the last election cycle we saw the impact of analytics on television ad buying. The advances now are related to applying analytics to the digital world—scraping the Web to find out more about individual voters. The rise of unstructured data allows us to learn more about voters—what they like on Facebook, who they follow on Twitter, what they talk about in social networks.

Skinner: [Campaigns] are in a much better position to target voters in a more precise way and use a lot more different types of data—targeting though digital media and figuring out what types of digital content voters are likely to consume.

2. What are the biggest challenges campaigns face in implementing analytics?

Ruffini: There’s so much data out there and so many ways to analyze it, being a good editor of data is very important. Otherwise there’s the risk of analysis paralysis. More people have skills with statistical software and can draw out correlations. But first you have to be focused on what the key questions are that you need to answer, what hypothesis needs to be proven true for the candidate to win. You need to set aside all the other stuff that is not going to impact a win or a loss.

Feit: In the private sector, companies have developed long-term customer databases so that they can use those assets going forward. The most effective data is collected over years, not weeks. Presidential campaigns happen once every four years, and there are different people running the campaigns every time. The parties need to do a better job of passing that voter data on from one campaign to the next.

Lackey: The incentives for campaigns are all upside down. Since campaigns end after an election, the campaign organization doesn’t gain anything from research that can’t be applied this cycle. When this is coupled with the infrequency of elections, you don’t have the opportunity for continuous measurement.

Skinner:  I think there are going to be a lot of campaigns this fall—particularly Republican incumbents—that are going to be trying to figure out what voters might be open to splitting their tickets and what subgroups of Clinton voters they should target.

3. How do voters feel about the use and analysis of their personal data by political parties and candidates? Do they think it benefits them?

Feit: The parties have pretty detailed information about households that they’re beginning to use to target them, but most voters aren’t aware that it’s happening. The campaigns need to get ahead of the issue. In the private sector, when customers all of a sudden become aware that their data is being used in ways they didn’t expect, they get upset and it causes a media storm. Companies that do this best are very transparent with their customers about how they are gathering and using the data.

Lackey: It’s unclear. We know that there was some backlash when the Ted Cruz campaign sent out voter histories, but we also know that volunteers and activists want to know that the time they commit to campaigns is not being wasted on ineffective tactics. The benefits to the electorate are pretty huge. By identifying which citizens will need to register for the first time or re-register, they’re helping to make the electorate more representative of the country. Additionally, as campaigns get more effective at exciting voters about elections, we’ll see higher participation rates.

Skinner: Data mining and voter targeting does seem to have some effect on turning people out to vote. On the other hand, tailoring messages targeted to their specific concerns could further exacerbate the polarized nature of the electorate and the long-term trend of there being fewer and fewer swing voters up for grabs.

Ruffini: If you ask people in a vacuum whether they’re concerned about the fact that there’s all this personal data out there about them, they’ll say yes. But at the end of the day they haven’t changed their behaviors. Nonetheless, we need to be good arbiters of the public trust.

4. What Big Data trend do you expect to emerge in political elections in four years?

Skinner: I think we’ll see much better communication targeting and a general shift of advertising from TV to digital.

Ruffini: So much of any campaign happens in real time, but polls are a reflection of what’s happened days ago. There’s going to be a shift toward more real-time analysis and a much clearer, shorter feedback loop between action and reaction. Traditional research isn’t good at that. If there’s a Trump gaffe or big Hillary news, campaigns need a way to understand and respond to that in real time with more rigor.

Feit: The 360-degree view of the voter. We’re going to see more data points about voters tied together just the way retailers, for example, have tied together records of customer interactions online, via smartphones [and] visits to physical stores. The political parties can start gathering data on voters across many touchpoints: when they voted, when they’re canvassed, when they visited a campaign website, when they donated.

Lackey: Undergraduate programs in most disciplines are beginning to integrate data science and analytics into the curriculum, so we’re going to see an emerging class of workers who are subject-matter experts first and incidentally know how to answer questions in a statistically rigorous way. As the barrier to entry on data and analytics lowers, we’ll see accelerated adoption and learning in ways that we can’t even imagine now.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy One Platform Has Already Won The 2016 Elections: Mobile.

This blog was written through a partnership with Thompson Reuters. To learn how SAP is helping them Run Live, click here.



Transform Or Die: What Will You Do In The Digital Economy?

Scott Feldman and Puneet Suppal

By now, most executives are keenly aware that the digital economy can be either an opportunity or a threat. The question is not whether they should engage their business in it. Rather, it’s how to unleash the power of digital technology while maintaining a healthy business, leveraging existing IT investments, and innovating without disrupting themselves.

Yet most of those executives are shying away Businesspeople in a Meeting --- Image by © Monalyn Gracia/Corbisfrom such a challenge. According to a recent study by MIT Sloan and Capgemini, only 15% of CEOs are executing a digital strategy, even though 90% agree that the digital economy will impact their industry. As these businesses ignore this reality, early adopters of digital transformation are achieving 9% higher revenue creation, 26% greater impact on profitability, and 12% more market valuation.

Why aren’t more leaders willing to transform their business and seize the opportunity of our hyperconnected world? The answer is as simple as human nature. Innately, humans are uncomfortable with the notion of change. We even find comfort in stability and predictability. Unfortunately, the digital economy is none of these – it’s fast and always evolving.

Digital transformation is no longer an option – it’s the imperative

At this moment, we are witnessing an explosion of connections, data, and innovations. And even though this hyperconnectivity has changed the game, customers are radically changing the rules – demanding simple, seamless, and personalized experiences at every touch point.

Billions of people are using social and digital communities to provide services, share insights, and engage in commerce. All the while, new channels for engaging with customers are created, and new ways for making better use of resources are emerging. It is these communities that allow companies to not only give customers what they want, but also align efforts across the business network to maximize value potential.

To seize the opportunities ahead, businesses must go beyond sensors, Big Data, analytics, and social media. More important, they need to reinvent themselves in a manner that is compatible with an increasingly digital world and its inhabitants (a.k.a. your consumers).

Here are a few companies that understand the importance of digital transformation – and are reaping the rewards:

  1. Under Armour:  No longer is this widely popular athletic brand just selling shoes and apparel. They are connecting 38 million people on a digital platform. By focusing on this services side of the business, Under Armour is poised to become a lifestyle advisor and health consultant, using his product side as the enabler.
  1. Port of Hamburg: Europe’s second-largest port is keeping carrier trucks and ships productive around the clock. By fusing facility, weather, and traffic conditions with vehicle availability and shipment schedules, the Port increased container handling capacity by 178% without expanding its physical space.
  1. Haier Asia: This top-ranking multinational consumer electronics and home appliances company decided to disrupt itself before someone else did. The company used a two-prong approach to digital transformation to create a service-based model to seize the potential of changing consumer behaviors and accelerate product development. 
  1. Uber: This startup darling is more than just a taxi service. It is transforming how urban logistics operates through a technology trifecta: Big Data, cloud, and mobile.
  1. American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO): Even nonprofits can benefit from digital transformation. ASCO is transforming care for cancer patients worldwide by consolidating patient information with its CancerLinQ. By unlocking knowledge and value from the 97% of cancer patients who are not involved in clinical trials, healthcare providers can drive better, more data-driven decision making and outcomes.

It’s time to take action 

During the SAP Executive Technology Summit at SAP TechEd on October 19–20, an elite group of CIOs, CTOs, and corporate executives will gather to discuss the challenges of digital transformation and how they can solve them. With the freedom of open, candid, and interactive discussions led by SAP Board Members and senior technology leadership, delegates will exchange ideas on how to get on the right path while leveraging their existing technology infrastructure.

Stay tuned for exclusive insights from this invitation-only event in our next blog!
Scott Feldman is Global Head of the SAP HANA Customer Community at SAP. Connect with him on Twitter @sfeldman0.

Puneet Suppal drives Solution Strategy and Adoption (Customer Innovation & IoT) at SAP Labs. Connect with him on Twitter @puneetsuppal.



About Scott Feldman and Puneet Suppal

Scott Feldman is the Head of SAP HANA International Customer Community. Puneet Suppal is the Customer Co-Innovation & Solution Adoption Executive at SAP.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Andreas Schmitz

Achieving quantum leaps through disruption and using data in new contexts, in ways designed for more than just Generation Y — indeed, the digital transformation affects us all. It’s time for a detailed look at its key aspects.

Data finding its way into new settings

Archiving all of a company’s internal information until the end of time is generally a good idea, as it gives the boss the security that nothing will be lost. Meanwhile, enabling him or her to create bar graphs and pie charts based on sales trends – preferably in real time, of course – is even better.

But the best scenario of all is when the boss can incorporate data from external sources. All of a sudden, information on factors as seemingly mundane as the weather start helping to improve interpretations of fluctuations in sales and to make precise modifications to the company’s offerings. When the gusts of autumn begin to blow, for example, energy providers scale back solar production and crank up their windmills. Here, external data provides a foundation for processes and decisions that were previously unattainable.

Quantum leaps possible through disruption

While these advancements involve changes in existing workflows, there are also much more radical approaches that eschew conventional structures entirely.

“The aggressive use of data is transforming business models, facilitating new products and services, creating new processes, generating greater utility, and ushering in a new culture of management,” states Professor Walter Brenner of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, regarding the effects of digitalization.

Harnessing these benefits requires the application of innovative information and communication technology, especially the kind termed “disruptive.” A complete departure from existing structures may not necessarily be the actual goal, but it can occur as a consequence of this process.

Having had to contend with “only” one new technology at a time in the past, be it PCs, SAP software, SQL databases, or the Internet itself, companies are now facing an array of concurrent topics, such as the Internet of Things, social media, third-generation e-business, and tablets and smartphones. Professor Brenner thus believes that every good — and perhaps disruptive — idea can result in a “quantum leap in terms of data.”

Products and services shaped by customers

It has already been nearly seven years since the release of an app that enables customers to order and pay for taxis. Initially introduced in Berlin, Germany, mytaxi makes it possible to avoid waiting on hold for the next phone representative and pay by credit card while giving drivers greater independence from taxi dispatch centers. In addition, analyses of user data can lead to the creation of new services, such as for people who consistently order taxis at around the same time of day.

“Successful models focus on providing utility to the customer,” Professor Brenner explains. “In the beginning, at least, everything else is secondary.”

In this regard, the private taxi agency Uber is a fair bit more radical. It bypasses the entire taxi industry and hires private individuals interested in making themselves and their vehicles available for rides on the Uber platform. Similarly, Airbnb runs a platform travelers can use to book private accommodations instead of hotel rooms.

Long-established companies are also undergoing profound changes. The German publishing house Axel Springer SE, for instance, has acquired a number of startups, launched an online dating platform, and released an app with which users can collect points at retail. Chairman and CEO Matthias Döpfner also has an interest in getting the company’s newspapers and other periodicals back into the black based on payment models, of course, but these endeavors are somewhat at odds with the traditional notion of publishing houses being involved solely in publishing.

The impact of digitalization transcends Generation Y

Digitalization is effecting changes in nearly every industry. Retailers will likely have no choice but to integrate their sales channels into an omnichannel approach. Seeking to make their data services as attractive as possible, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have joined forces to purchase the digital map service HERE. Mechanical engineering companies are outfitting their equipment with sensors to reduce downtime and achieve further product improvements.

“The specific potential and risks at hand determine how and by what means each individual company approaches the subject of digitalization,” Professor Brenner reveals. The resulting services will ultimately benefit every customer – not just those belonging to Generation Y, who present a certain basic affinity for digital methods.

“Think of cars that notify the service center when their brakes or drive belts need to be replaced, offer parking assistance, or even handle parking for you,” Brenner offers. “This can be a big help to elderly people in particular.”

Chief digital officers: team members, not miracle workers

Making the transition to the digital future is something that involves not only a CEO or a head of marketing or IT, but the entire company. Though these individuals do play an important role as proponents of digital models, it also takes more than just a chief digital officer alone.

For Professor Brenner, appointing a single person to the board of a DAX company to oversee digitalization is basically absurd. “Unless you’re talking about Da Vinci or Leibnitz born again, nobody could handle such a task,” he states.

In Brenner’s view, this is a topic for each and every department, and responsibilities should be assigned much like on a soccer field: “You’ve got a coach and the players – and the fans, as well, who are more or less what it’s all about.”

Here, the CIO neither competes with the CDO nor assumes an elevated position in the process of digital transformation. Implementing new databases like SAP HANA or Hadoop, leveraging sensor data in both technical and commercially viable ways, these are the tasks CIOs will face going forward.

“There are some fantastic jobs out there,” Brenner affirms.

Want more insight on managing digital transformation? See Three Keys To Winning In A World Of Disruption.

Image via Shutterstock


Andreas Schmitz

About Andreas Schmitz

Andreas Schmitz is a Freelance Journalist for SAP, covering a wide range of topics from big data to Internet of Things, HR, business innovation and mobile.

The Future of Cybersecurity: Trust as Competitive Advantage

Justin Somaini and Dan Wellers


The cost of data breaches will reach US$2.1 trillion globally by 2019—nearly four times the cost in 2015.

Cyberattacks could cost up to $90 trillion in net global economic benefits by 2030 if cybersecurity doesn’t keep pace with growing threat levels.

Cyber insurance premiums could increase tenfold to $20 billion annually by 2025.

Cyberattacks are one of the top 10 global risks of highest concern for the next decade.

Companies are collaborating with a wider network of partners, embracing distributed systems, and meeting new demands for 24/7 operations.

But the bad guys are sharing intelligence, harnessing emerging technologies, and working round the clock as well—and companies are giving them plenty of weaknesses to exploit.

  • 33% of companies today are prepared to prevent a worst-case attack.
  • 25% treat cyber risk as a significant corporate risk.
  • 80% fail to assess their customers and suppliers for cyber risk.

The ROI of Zero Trust

Perimeter security will not be enough. As interconnectivity increases so will the adoption of zero-trust networks, which place controls around data assets and increases visibility into how they are used across the digital ecosystem.

A Layered Approach

Companies that embrace trust as a competitive advantage will build robust security on three core tenets:

  • Prevention: Evolving defensive strategies from security policies and educational approaches to access controls
  • Detection: Deploying effective systems for the timely detection and notification of intrusions
  • Reaction: Implementing incident response plans similar to those for other disaster recovery scenarios

They’ll build security into their digital ecosystems at three levels:

  1. Secure products. Security in all applications to protect data and transactions
  2. Secure operations. Hardened systems, patch management, security monitoring, end-to-end incident handling, and a comprehensive cloud-operations security framework
  3. Secure companies. A security-aware workforce, end-to-end physical security, and a thorough business continuity framework

Against Digital Armageddon

Experts warn that the worst-case scenario is a state of perpetual cybercrime and cyber warfare, vulnerable critical infrastructure, and trillions of dollars in losses. A collaborative approach will be critical to combatting this persistent global threat with implications not just for corporate and personal data but also strategy, supply chains, products, and physical operations.

Download the executive brief The Future of Cybersecurity: Trust as Competitive Advantage.



Unleash The Digital Transformation

Kadamb Goswami

The world has changed. We’ve seen massive disruption on multiple fronts – business model disruption, cybercrime, new devices, and an app-centric world. Powerful networks are crucial to success in a mobile-first, cloud-first world that’s putting an ever-increasing increasing amount of data at our fingertips. With the Internet of Things (IoT) we can connect instrumented devices worldwide and use new data to transform business models and products.


Disruption comes in many forms. It’s not big or scary, it’s just another way of describing change and evolution. In the ’80s it manifested as call centers. Then, as the digital landscape began to take shape, it was the Internet, cloud computing … now it’s artificial intelligence (AI).

Digital transformation

Digital transformation means different things to different companies, but in the end I believe it will be a simple salvation that will carry us forward. If you Bing (note I worked for Microsoft for 15 years before experiencing digital transformation from the lens of the outside world), digital transformation, it says it’s “the profound and accelerating transformation of business activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way.” (I’ll simplify that; keep reading.)

A lot of today’s digital transformation ideas are ripped straight from the scripts of sci-fi entertainment, whether you’re talking about the robotic assistants of 2001: A Space Odyssey or artificial intelligence in the Star Trek series. We’re forecasting our future with our imagination. So, let’s move on to why digital transformation is needed in our current world.

Business challenges

The basic challenges facing businesses today are the same as they’ve always been: engaging customers, empowering employees, optimizing operations, and reinventing the value offered to customers. However, what has changed is the unique convergence of three things:

  1. Increasing volumes of data, particularly driven by the digitization of “things” and heightened individual mobility and collaboration
  1. Advancements in data analytics and intelligence to draw actionable insight from the data
  1. Ubiquity of cloud computing, which puts this disruptive power in the hands of organizations of all sizes, increasing the pace of innovation and competition

Digital transformation in plain English

Hernan Marino, senior vice president, marketing, & global chief operating officer at SAP, explains digital transformation by giving specific industry examples to make it simpler.

Automobile manufacturing used to be the work of assembly lines, people working side-by-side literally piecing together, painting, and churning out vehicles. It transitioned to automation, reducing costs and marginalizing human error. That was a business transformation. Now, we are seeing companies like Tesla and BMW incorporate technology into their vehicles that essentially make them computers on wheels. Cameras. Sensors. GPS. Self-driving vehicles. Syncing your smartphone with your car.

The point here is that companies need to make the upfront investments in infrastructure to take advantage of digital transformation, and that upfront investment will pay dividends in the long run as technological innovations abound. It is our job to collaboratively work with our customers to understand what infrastructure changes need to be made to achieve and take advantage of digital transformation.

Harman gives electric companies as another example. Remember a few years ago, when you used to go outside your house and see the little power meter spinning as it recorded the kilowatts you use? Every month, the meter reader would show up in your yard, record your usage, and report back to the electric company.

Most electric companies then made a business transformation and installed smart meters – eliminating the cost of the meter reader and integrating most homes into a smart grid that gave customers access to their real-time information. Now, as renewable energy evolves and integrates more fully into our lives, these same electric companies that switched over to smart meters are going to make additional investments to be able to analyze the data and make more informed decisions that will benefit both the company and its customers.

That is digital transformation. Obviously, banks, healthcare, entertainment, trucking, and e-commerce all have different needs than auto manufacturers and electric companies. It is up to us – marketers and account managers promoting digital transformation – to identify those needs and help our clients make the digital transformation as seamlessly as possible.

Digital transformation is more than just a fancy buzzword, it is our present and our future. It is re-envisioning existing business models and embracing a different way of bringing together people, data, and processes to create more for their customers through systems of intelligence.

Learn more about what it means to be a digital business.


About Goswami Kadamb

Kadamb is a Senior Program Manager at SAP where he is responsible for developing and executing strategic sales program with Concur SaaS portfolio. Prior to that he led several initiatives with Microsoft's Cloud & Enterprise business to enable Solution Sales & IaaS offerings.