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CEOs On Social Media: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Steve Olenski

As a parent I, of course, have tried to instill a set of rules for my children to adhere to as a means to teach them as they move along the growth ladder. All parents instill their own set of rules and values and so on to help guide the instruct their children, right?

Well let’s say that when my kids were younger, say around 3, I hung up a sign in the kitchen that read: “Don’t Touch A Hot Stove.” I made the sign big, bright and bold so they could not miss it every time they walked into the kitchen. And they followed the rule and never touched the hot stove.

Now let’s say one time they walked into the kitchen and there I was touching the hot stove, burning my fingers, screaming in pain.

“Daddy, you told us to never touch the hot stove. Why did you touch it?”

“Um, well… it’s different for grown ups.”

“Oh, I see… you want me to get mommy so she can take you to the hospital?”

While this may not be the best analogy, the point is very clear that when it comes to social media and the use thereof, far too many CEOs are telling their employees – and the rest of the world for that matter – that they know their company needs to be “doing it” yet simply do not practice what they preach.

What CEOs Are Saying To Their “Kids”

“As a percentage of overall marketing budgets, spending on social media is expected to increase 17.5% over the next five years.” That comes directly from a study conducted last year by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business of nearly 250 top executives.

From an infographic put out by MBAPrograms.com which reveals recent findings on how corporations are using social media. Note, how “corporations” are using social media, not those running them.

  • 94% of corporations are using social media in one way, shape or form
  • 85% credit social media for providing increased exposure to their business
  • 74% indicated an increase in website traffic thanks to as little as 6 hours a week on social media
  • 58% say it’s use for lead generation & developing brand loyalty
  • 65% say social media is key to learning about their competition

As to their preferred social media networks…

MBAPrograms.com Infographic: Favorite Social Media Tools

No great surprise there.

Ok, this all looks great, right? CEO’s are investing more in social media and corporations are “getting” social media and realizing that is not a fad, is here to stay and to stay alive in today’s world, one better “get” social media.

What CEOs Are Actually Doing

Just last week I wrote an article on Josh James, his company Domo and the now infamous #domosocial experiment. Josh is the living embodiment of a CEO who “gets” social media so I definitely urge you to read about his groundbreaking experiment.

Josh and his company recently teamed up with CEO.com to conduct a survey on Fortune 500 CEOs and their use of social media. Josh wrote about the findings of the survey which clearly revealed that a very large number of CEOs are “touching the hot stove” as 70%, yes 70% of all Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence of any kind on social media.

“You kids get to getting on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest and all that good stuff. I’m far too busy to spend my time engaging with the very people who keep us in business.”

The obligatory infographic from the Domo and CEO.com survey:

CEO.com Infographic: Are Fortune 500 CEOs Social?
It really is mind-blowing and in fact quite hypocritical when you get right down to it when you consider the fact that CEOs openly acknowledge the importance of the use of social media for their companies yet don’t see the need to be socially active themselves.

Yes, I saw the stat that read the number of CEOs using social media is expected to grow to 57% from the current 16% in 3 – 5 years but I will believe that when I see it. And by the looks of things, I won’t be seeing in 3 , 5, 7 or even 10 years. Sorry, not buying it.

I want to leave you with quotes from Josh’s article and also one from David K. Williams who recently penned CEOs and Social Media — How Much is Too Much?

From Josh’s aptly titled article CEOs Afraid Of Going Social Are Doing Shareholders A Massive Disservice:

“It is my hope that CEOs come to believe in the transformative power of social media.  But if they persist in lagging far behind the general population in social media participation and not delivering value to the shareholders that is there for the taking, they may not be CEOs for much longer.”

From David’s article:

“If we haven’t convinced you yet (of the importance of social media), consider these two results from the BRANDFog 2012 CEO Survey as the final clincher: More than 82% of respondents are likely or much more likely to trust a company whose CEO and team engage in social media. And an amazing 77% of respondents are likely or much more willing to buy from a company whose mission and values are defined through their leaderships’ involvement in social media.

The conclusion is clear: Any leader who isn’t engaged in social media today is like the leaders of 50 years ago who insisted on sending a telegram instead of dialing a phone.”

Source: Forbes

Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review, Steve Olenski is a freelance writer/blogger currently looking for full-time work. He has worked on some of the biggest brands in the world and has over 20 years experience in advertising and marketing. He lives in Philly and can be reached via email,TwitterLinkedIn or his website.

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The Future Of Supplier Collaboration: 9 Things CPOs Want Their Managers To Know Now

Sundar Kamak

As a sourcing or procurement manager, you may think there’s nothing new about supplier collaboration. Your chief procurement officer (CPO) most likely disagrees.
Forward-thinking CPOs acknowledge the benefit of supplier partnerships. They not only value collaboration, but require a revolution in how their buying organization conducts its business and operations. “Procurement must start looking to suppliers for inspiration and new capability, stop prescribing specifications and start tapping into the expertise of suppliers,” writes David Rae in Procurement Leaders. The CEO expects it of your CPO, and your CPO expects it of you. For sourcing managers, this can be a lot of pressure.

Here are nine things your CPO wants you to know about how supplier collaboration is changing – and why it matters to your company’s future and your own future.

1. The need for supplier collaboration in procurement is greater than ever

Over half (65%) of procurement practitioners say procurement at their company is becoming more collaborative with suppliers, according to The Future of Procurement, Making Collaboration Pay Off, by Oxford Economics. Why? Because the pace of business has increased exponentially, and businesses must be able to respond to new market demands with agility and innovation. In this climate, buyers are relying on suppliers more than ever before. And buyers aren’t collaborating with suppliers merely as providers of materials and goods, but as strategic partners that can help create products that are competitive differentiators.

Supplier collaboration itself isn’t new. What’s new is that it’s taken on a much greater urgency and importance.

2. You’re probably not realizing the full collective power of your supplier relationships

Supplier collaboration has always been a function of maintaining a delicate balance between demand and supply. For the most part, the primary focus of the supplier relationship is ensuring the right materials are available at the right time and location. However, sourcing managers with a narrow focus on delivery are missing out on one of the greatest advantages of forging collaborative supplier partnerships: an opportunity to drive synergies that are otherwise perceived as impossible within the confines of the business. The game-changer is when you drive those synergies with thousands, not hundreds of suppliers. Look at the Apple Store as a prime example of collaboration en masse. Without the apps, the iPhone is just another ordinary phone!

3. Collaboration comes in more than one flavor

Suppliers don’t just collaborate with you to provide a critical component or service. They also work with your engineers to help ensure costs are optimized from the buyer’s perspective as well as the supplier’s side. They may even take over the provisioning of an entire end-to-end solution. Or co-design with your R&D team through joint research and development. These forms of collaboration aren’t new, but they are becoming more common and more critical. And they are becoming more impactful, because once you start extending any of these collaboration models to more and more suppliers, your capabilities as a business increase by orders of magnitude. If one good supplier can enable your company to build its brand, expand its reach, and establish its position as a market leader – imagine what’s possible when you work collaboratively with hundreds or thousands of suppliers.

4. Keeping product sustainability top of mind pays off

Facing increasing demand for sustainable products and production, companies are relying on suppliers to answer this new market requirement.

As a sourcing manager, you may need to go outside your comfort zone to think about new, innovative ways to collaborate for achieving sustainability. Recently, I heard from an acquaintance who is a CPO of a leading services company. His organization is currently collaborating with one of the largest suppliers in the world to adhere to regulatory mandates and consumer demand for “lean and green” lightbulbs. Although this approach was interesting to me, what really struck me was his observation on how this co-innovation with the supplier is spawning cost and resource optimization and the delivery of competitive products. As reported by Andrew Winston in The Harvard Business Review, Target and Walmart partnered to launch the Personal Care Sustainability Summit last year. So even competitors are collaborating with each other and with their suppliers in the name of sustainability.

5. Co-marketing is a win-win

Look at your list of suppliers. Does anyone have a brand that is bigger than your company’s? Believe it or not, almost all of us do. So why not seize the opportunity to raise your and your supplier’s brand profile in the marketplace?

Take Intel, for example. The laptop you’re working on right now may very well have an “Intel inside” sticker on it. That’s co-marketing at work. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top 100 most valuable brands by Millward Brown Optimor, this largest supplier of microprocessors is world-renowned for its technology and innovation. For many companies that buy supplies from Intel, the decision to co-market is a strategic approach to convey that the product is reliable and provides real value for their computing needs.

6. Suppliers get to choose their customers, too

Increased competition for high-performing suppliers is changing the way procurement operates, say 58% of procurement executives in the Oxford Economics study. Buyers have a responsibility to the supplier – and to their CEO – to be a customer of choice. When the economy is going well, you might be able to dictate the supplier’s goods and services – and sometimes even the service delivery model. When times get tough (and they can very quickly), suppliers will typically reevaluate your organization’s needs to see whether they can continue service in a fiscally responsible manner. To secure suppliers’ attention in favorable and challenging economic conditions, your organization should establish collaborative and mutually productive partnerships with them.

7. Suppliers can help simplify operations

Cost optimization will always be one of your performance metrics; however, that is only one small part of the entire puzzle. What will help your organization get noticed is leveraging the supplier relationship to innovate new and better ways of managing the product line and operating the business while balancing risk and cost optimization. Ask yourself: Which functions are no longer needed? Can they be outsourced to a supplier that can perform them better? What can be automated?

8. Suppliers have a better grasp of your sourcing categories than you do

Understand your category like never before so that your organization can realize the full potential of its supplier investments while delivering products that are consistent and of high quality. How? By leveraging the wisdom of your suppliers. To be blunt: they know more than you do. Tap into that knowledge to gain a solid understanding of the product, market category, suppliers’ capabilities, and shifting dynamics in the industry, If a buyer does not understand these areas deeply, no amount of collaboration will empower a supplier to help your company innovate as well as optimize costs and resources.

9. Remember that there’s something in it for you as well

All of us want to do strategic, impactful work. Sourcing managers with aspirations of becoming CPOs should move beyond writing contracts and pushing PO requests by building strategic procurement skill sets. For example, a working knowledge in analytics allows you to choose suppliers that can shape the market and help a product succeed – and can catch the eye of the senior leadership team.

Sundar Kamak is global vice president of solutions marketing at Ariba, an SAP company.

For more on supplier collaboration, read Making Collaboration Pay Off, part of a series on the Future of Procurement, by Oxford Economics.

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Sundar Kamak

About Sundar Kamak

Sundar Kamak is the Vice President of Products & Innovation at SAP Ariba. He is an accomplished Solutions Marketing and Product Management Execuive with 15 + year's broad experience in product strategy, positioning, SaaS, Freemium offering, go-to-market planning and execution.

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.

 

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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.

How AI Can End Bias

Yvonne Baur, Brenda Reid, Steve Hunt, and Fawn Fitter

We humans make sense of the world by looking for patterns, filtering them through what we think we already know, and making decisions accordingly. When we talk about handing decisions off to artificial intelligence (AI), we expect it to do the same, only better.

Machine learning does, in fact, have the potential to be a tremendous force for good. Humans are hindered by both their unconscious assumptions and their simple inability to process huge amounts of information. AI, on the other hand, can be taught to filter irrelevancies out of the decision-making process, pluck the most suitable candidates from a haystack of résumés, and guide us based on what it calculates is objectively best rather than simply what we’ve done in the past.

In other words, AI has the potential to help us avoid bias in hiring, operations, customer service, and the broader business and social communities—and doing so makes good business sense. For one thing, even the most unintentional discrimination can cost a company significantly, in both money and brand equity. The mere fact of having to defend against an accusation of bias can linger long after the issue itself is settled.

Beyond managing risk related to legal and regulatory issues, though, there’s a broader argument for tackling bias: in a relentlessly competitive and global economy, no organization can afford to shut itself off from broader input, more varied experiences, a wider range of talent, and larger potential markets.

That said, the algorithms that drive AI don’t reveal pure, objective truth just because they’re mathematical. Humans must tell AI what they consider suitable, teach it which information is relevant, and indicate that the outcomes they consider best—ethically, legally, and, of course, financially—are those that are free from bias, conscious or otherwise. That’s the only way AI can help us create systems that are fair, more productive, and ultimately better for both business and the broader society.

Bias: Bad for Business

When people talk about AI and machine learning, they usually mean algorithms that learn over time as they process large data sets. Organizations that have gathered vast amounts of data can use these algorithms to apply sophisticated mathematical modeling techniques to see if the results can predict future outcomes, such as fluctuations in the price of materials or traffic flows around a port facility. Computers are ideally suited to processing these massive data volumes to reveal patterns and interactions that might help organizations get ahead of their competitors. As we gather more types and sources of data with which to train increasingly complex algorithms, interest in AI will become even more intense.

Using AI for automated decision making is becoming more common, at least for simple tasks, such as recommending additional products at the point of sale based on a customer’s current and past purchases. The hope is that AI will be able to take on the process of making increasingly sophisticated decisions, such as suggesting entirely new markets where a company could be profitable, or finding the most qualified candidates for jobs by helping HR look beyond the expected demographics.

As AI takes on these increasingly complex decisions, it can help reduce bias, conscious or otherwise. By exposing a bias, algorithms allow us to lessen the impact of that bias on our decisions and actions. They enable us to make decisions that reflect objective data instead of untested assumptions; they reveal imbalances; and they alert people to their cognitive blind spots so they can make more accurate, unbiased decisions.

Imagine, for example, a major company that realizes that its past hiring practices were biased against women and that would benefit from having more women in its management pipeline. AI can help the company analyze its past job postings for gender-biased language, which might have discouraged some applicants. Future postings could be more gender neutral, increasing the number of female applicants who get past the initial screenings.

AI can also support people in making less-biased decisions. For example, a company is considering two candidates for an influential management position: one man and one woman. The final hiring decision lies with a hiring manager who, when they learn that the female candidate has a small child at home, assumes that she would prefer a part-time schedule.

That assumption may be well intentioned, but it runs counter to the outcome the company is looking for. An AI could apply corrective pressure by reminding the hiring manager that all qualifications being equal, the female candidate is an objectively good choice who meets the company’s criteria. The hope is that the hiring manager will realize their unfounded assumption and remove it from their decision-making process.

At the same time, by tracking the pattern of hiring decisions this manager makes, the AI could alert them—and other people in HR—that the company still has some remaining hidden biases against female candidates to address.

Look for Where Bias Already Exists

In other words, if we want AI to counter the effects of a biased world, we have to begin by acknowledging that the world is biased. And that starts in a surprisingly low-tech spot: identifying any biases baked into your own organization’s current processes. From there, you can determine how to address those biases and improve outcomes.

There are many scenarios where humans can collaborate with AI to prevent or even reverse bias, says Jason Baldridge, a former associate professor of computational linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin and now co-founder of People Pattern, a startup for predictive demographics using social media analytics. In the highly regulated financial services industry, for example, Baldridge says banks are required to ensure that their algorithmic choices are not based on input variables that correlate with protected demographic variables (like race and gender). The banks also have to prove to regulators that their mathematical models don’t focus on patterns that disfavor specific demographic groups, he says. What’s more, they have to allow outside data scientists to assess their models for code or data that might have a discriminatory effect. As a result, banks are more evenhanded in their lending.

Code Is Only Human

The reason for these checks and balances is clear: the algorithms that drive AI are built by humans, and humans choose the data with which to shape and train the resulting models. Because humans are prone to bias, we have to be careful that we are neither simply confirming existing biases nor introducing new ones when we develop AI models and feed them data.

“From the perspective of a business leader who wants to do the right thing, it’s a design question,” says Cathy O’Neil, whose best-selling book Weapons of Math Destruction was long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award. “You wouldn’t let your company design a car and send it out in the world without knowing whether it’s safe. You have to design it with safety standards in mind,” she says. “By the same token, algorithms have to be designed with fairness and legality in mind, with standards that are understandable to everyone, from the business leader to the people being scored.” (To learn more from O’Neil about transparency in algorithms, read Thinkers in this issue.)

Don’t Do What You’ve Always Done

To eliminate bias, you must first make sure that the data you’re using to train the algorithm is itself free of bias, or, rather, that the algorithm can recognize bias in that data and bring the bias to a human’s attention.

SAP has been working on an initiative that tackles this issue directly by spotting and categorizing gendered terminology in old job postings. Nothing as overt as No women need apply, which everyone knows is discriminatory, but phrases like outspoken and aggressively pursuing opportunities, which are proven to attract male job applicants and repel female applicants, and words like caring and flexible, which do the opposite.

Once humans categorize this language and feed it into an algorithm, the AI can learn to flag words that imply bias and suggest gender-neutral alternatives. Unfortunately, this de-biasing process currently requires too much human intervention to scale easily, but as the amount of available de-biased data grows, this will become far less of a limitation in developing AI for HR.

Similarly, companies should look for specificity in how their algorithms search for new talent. According to O’Neil, there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of the best engineer; there’s only the best engineer for a particular role or project at a particular time. That’s the needle in the haystack that AI is well suited to find.

Look Beyond the Obvious

AI could be invaluable in radically reducing deliberate and unconscious discrimination in the workplace. However, the more data your company analyzes, the more likely it is that you will deal with stereotypes, O’Neil says. If you’re looking for math professors, for example, and you load your hiring algorithm with all the data you can find about math professors, your algorithm may give a lower score to a black female candidate living in Harlem simply because there are fewer black female mathematicians in your data set. But if that candidate has a PhD in math from Cornell, and if you’ve trained your AI to prioritize that criterion, the algorithm will bump her up the list of candidates rather than summarily ruling out a potentially high-value hire on the spurious basis of race and gender.

To further improve the odds that AI will be useful, companies have to go beyond spotting relationships between data and the outcomes they care about. It doesn’t take sophisticated predictive modeling to determine, for example, that women are disproportionately likely to jump off the corporate ladder at the halfway point because they’re struggling with work/life balance.

Many companies find it all too easy to conclude that women simply aren’t qualified for middle management. However, a company committed to smart talent management will instead ask what it is about these positions that makes them incompatible with women’s lives. It will then explore what it can change so that it doesn’t lose talent and institutional knowledge that will cost the company far more to replace than to retain.

That company may even apply a second layer of machine learning that looks at its own suggestions and makes further recommendations: “It looks like you’re trying to do X, so consider doing Y,” where X might be promoting more women, making the workforce more ethnically diverse, or improving retention statistics, and Y is redefining job responsibilities with greater flexibility, hosting recruiting events in communities of color, or redesigning benefits packages based on what similar companies offer.

Context Matters—and Context Changes

Even though AI learns—and maybe because it learns—it can never be considered “set it and forget it” technology. To remain both accurate and relevant, it has to be continually trained to account for changes in the market, your company’s needs, and the data itself.

Sources for language analysis, for example, tend to be biased toward standard American English, so if you’re building models to analyze social media posts or conversational language input, Baldridge says, you have to make a deliberate effort to include and correct for slang and nonstandard dialects. Standard English applies the word sick to someone having health problems, but it’s also a popular slang term for something good or impressive, which could lead to an awkward experience if someone confuses the two meanings, to say the least. Correcting for that, or adding more rules to the algorithm, such as “The word sick appears in proximity to positive emoji,” takes human oversight.

Moving Forward with AI

Today, AI excels at making biased data obvious, but that isn’t the same as eliminating it. It’s up to human beings to pay attention to the existence of bias and enlist AI to help avoid it. That goes beyond simply implementing AI to insisting that it meet benchmarks for positive impact. The business benefits of taking this step are—or soon will be—obvious.

In IDC FutureScapes’ webcast “Worldwide Big Data, Business Analytics, and Cognitive Software 2017 Predictions,” research director David Schubmehl predicted that by 2020 perceived bias and lack of evidentiary transparency in cognitive/AI solutions will create an activist backlash movement, with up to 10% of users backing away from the technology. However, Schubmehl also speculated that consumer and enterprise users of machine learning will be far more likely to trust AI’s recommendations and decisions if they understand how those recommendations and decisions are made. That means knowing what goes into the algorithms, how they arrive at their conclusions, and whether they deliver desired outcomes that are also legally and ethically fair.

Clearly, organizations that can address this concern explicitly will have a competitive advantage, but simply stating their commitment to using AI for good may not be enough. They also may wish to support academic efforts to research AI and bias, such as the annual Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning (FATML) workshop, which was held for the third time in November 2016.

O’Neil, who blogs about data science and founded the Lede Program for Data Journalism, an intensive certification program at Columbia University, is going one step further. She is attempting to create an entirely new industry dedicated to auditing and monitoring algorithms to ensure that they not only reveal bias but actively eliminate it. She proposes the formation of groups of data scientists that evaluate supply chains for signs of forced labor, connect children at risk of abuse with resources to support their families, or alert people through a smartphone app when their credit scores are used to evaluate eligibility for something other than a loan.

As we begin to entrust AI with more complex and consequential decisions, organizations may also want to be proactive about ensuring that their algorithms do good—so that their companies can use AI to do well. D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


About the Authors:

Yvonne Baur is Head of Predictive Analytics for Sap SuccessFactors solutions.

Brenda Reid is Vice President of Product Management for Sap SuccessFactors solutions.

Steve Hunt is Senior Vice President of Human Capital Management Research for Sap SuccessFactors solutions.

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

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Big Data: Better Than Big Muscles at Kinduct

Stephanie Overby

Travis McDonough has always been looking for a competitive edge. As an amateur athlete “on the small side,” he sought other ways—exercise, nutrition, strategy—to get ahead.

Today McDonough is the of CEO of Kinduct, a provider of cloud-based software that analyzes data from wearables, electronic medical records, computer vision solutions, and more to assess and make recommendations about physical human performance. Kinduct provides 100 professional sports organizations, including the five major sports leagues in North America, with intelligence to make decisions about their athletes and training programs.

Digital Fills a Gap

A chiropractor by training, McDonough owned and operated a network of sports rehabilitation clinics, where he found that patients retained only a fraction of what they were instructed to do through text or conversation. “As we treated athletes, we realized there was a gaping hole in the industry for technology [to fill],” he says.

McDonough first launched a company to create 3D videos designed to help his athlete patients better understand their injuries and the resulting therapy. The videos, delivered by text or e-mail, would illustrate what happens inside the human body when it experiences whiplash, for example.

“We quickly realized we couldn’t just be a content company and push information without understanding more about the athlete,” he says. Athletes and their trainers collected a massive amount of individual health and performance data that was available to be tapped from electronic medical records, wearable devices, and computer vision-based tracking systems that measure and record information such as how fast an athlete is running or jumping. “We needed to be agnostic and aggressive consumers of all kinds of data sources in order to push more targeted programs to our clients,” he says. So McDonough recruited his brother’s brother-in-law (vice president of product, Dave Anderson) to develop software to make sense of it all.

Innovate a Better Athlete

The software is suited for healthcare and military applications: the Canadian Armed Forces uses it to deliver exercise, wellness, and nutrition programs to its troops. But McDonough knew that the world of professional sports would provide his most eager customers.

Professional sports teams use Kinduct’s analytics to reduce injury and win more games.

“The sports world is willing to embrace innovation more quickly than other markets, like healthcare, that are slower-moving. And that’s where our passion lives. Many of us are sports fanatics and have been athletes,” says McDonough of the company’s 70 employees. Kinduct’s first customers were National Hockey League (NHL) teams, followed in short order by the National Basketball Association (NBA).

For its professional sports clients, Kinduct has uncovered more than 100 novel correlations. Most are closely guarded secrets, but several have become public. The company found, for example, that when a basketball player’s sleep falls below a certain threshold, there is a strong correlation with reduced free throw percentages two days later. That discovery led one NBA team (McDonough won’t say which) to focus on getting players to bed on time and making travel schedule changes to enable the requisite rest.

Kinduct software also found correlations for hockey teams. It demonstrated to a leading hockey team that better grip strength was likely to lead to harder and faster shots on goal. Moreover, when the system ingested three years of historical computer vision information, it found that a player’s ability to slow down dramatically affects the chances of soft tissue injuries, which are costly to professional sports teams and athletes. The software can send an alert when it spots a trend that could predict the possibility of such an injury.

We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research.

The software “will never replace the experts in the trenches,” says McDonough. “But we are able to arm coaches and trainers with the intelligence necessary to make more informed decisions. Technology will never replace the power of a good relationship.”

Think a Few Plays Ahead

Kinduct is based in McDonough’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which boasts five universities, strong government subsidies, a low cost of living, and, for Kinducts’s predominantly U.S.-based customers, a favorable currency exchange rate. Despite these advantages, Halifax isn’t widely known for its digital innovators. “We’ve got a huge chip on our shoulder,” says McDonough. “We want to prove that we’re just as capable of becoming a global success as companies elsewhere,” such as Silicon Valley or London.

The Kinduct platform can help athletes or medical patients improve their condition or performance.

Nevertheless, McDonough spends significant time in Silicon Valley meeting with investors and looking at potential U.S. expansion (Kinduct closed a US$9 million Series A investment led by Intel Capital in October). “There’s a huge benefit to growing in Nova Scotia,” he says, “but we also need to be in the epicenter of the tech space.”

McDonough has big ideas for Kinduct’s future, thanks to the explosion of health- and fitness-tracking devices. “We can pull all the data in and, when we see a negative pattern, provide the user with the exact roadmap they need to follow to improve their condition or performance,” he says. “That’s equally as useful to a professional football player or an Olympic athlete as it is to someone recovering from a knee replacement or living with type 2 diabetes.”

Kinduct has 16 projects underway to measure the impact of the platform in helping individuals manage conditions like peripheral vascular disease and cognitive decline. “We want to show how the platform can empower and engage patients,” says McDonough.

Go Big or Go Home

Meanwhile, however, McDonough intends “to dominate the sports space. That is our bubble wrap of credibility, and we can leverage that to do other things.”

Focus was never a strong suit for McDonough, who struggled with dyslexia and ADD as a kid. “Thank God for sport, which helped to channel my energy,” he says. But that wandering mind, he says, has also been an asset. “Like a lot of ADD sufferers, I have a lot of imagination,” he says. For balance, he’s hired a leadership team that keeps him grounded, and he has assembled a board of experienced business and technology leaders. “They have the institutional knowledge in how to scale,” he says.

McDonough is blunt: right now, he’d rather be innovative than profitable. “We’re in this to go big. That means carrying a burn rate, hiring aggressively, and investing in research,” he says. “We’re lucky enough to be in locker rooms with these teams and close to some of the best in the business in terms of medicine and training and data science. That’s helping us to produce our future roadmap.” D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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