Parag Chitalia, who is the senior director of advanced analytics and business intelligence at VMWare, believes that analytics is fun, it is here to stay and will free humankind from mundane decision making. He has over two decades of experience in building high performance teams in business analytics, supply chain, consulting across the Americas and Asia.
As a part of his journey with VMWare, he has been responsible for driving business value for strategic initiatives enabling data driven decision making. While engaging with stakeholders, he has brought value in BI and predictive analytics solutions to drive growth and improve customer satisfaction.
To get a brief insight on VMWare, the company has been a leader in cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology since 1998, accelerating digital transformation and building solutions to facilitate an evolution of IT environments. With its solutions in technology, strategies, cloud computing and several others, several organisations have been improving their business agility by modernising data centres and integrating public cloud, thus driving innovation and empowering the digital workspace.
In his candid conversation with Analytics India Magazine, Chitalia shares insights on his analytics journey, future plans for the company and much more.
AIM: Would you like to talk about VMware and the various products offered by it?
Parag Chitalia: VMware, a global leader in cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology, accelerates digital transformation by enabling unprecedented freedom and flexibility in how our customers build and evolve IT environments. It is a leader in the Compute, Network and Storage virtualization market globally and led the development of Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC).
AIM: How are organizations driving innovations and improving business agility using the solutions offered by the company?
PC: With VMware solutions, organizations are improving business agility by modernizing data centres and integrating public clouds, driving innovation with modern apps, creating exceptional experiences by empowering the digital workspace, and safeguarding customer trust by transforming security.
AIM: How did you start your career in Analytics? How has the journey been so far?
PC: I was a career Supply Chain consultant when Dell asked if I could start a Supply Chain Analytics team to drive Supply Chain efficiencies. Having spent almost 2 decades in Supply Chain, an offer to improve one of the best run Supply Chains in the world was too enticing. It did not take me too long to realize that I had found a new career in analytics -leveraging my inherent analytic psyche. I have spent the past 12+ years thoroughly loving the (analytical) work I do, building analytical teams across the globe and across business functions within a company to drive cost efficacies and to drive revenue growth. The journey has been one of incredible passion, learnings and fun.
AIM: Would you like to share some of the analytics solutions that you have worked on?
PC: Analytics has been around since humanity invented the wheel (and probably before it!) enabling decision-making since the ages. Our ability to harvest more (structured and unstructured data) information, and the unprecedented availability of massively parallel computing, map-reduce and compute capacity, availability of analytical tools and techniques, has created a perfect storm driving the democratisation of analytical decision-making. During my tenure at Dell Global Analytics and at VMware, I have been very fortunate to have worked across all (internal) business functions, supporting decision-making with well-honed analytics. Here are a few examples:
- Supporting sales with Cross Sell/UpSell propensity models
- Supporting marketing with decision-making enabling the best campaign, and timing, and product recommendation for the various customer personas involved in the customer purchase decision
- Enabling (optimizing) the list prices for our products. Evaluating the range of discounts that yield the best results for customers and the company
- Using AI/ML to provide possible resolutions to our customers, as the customer is typing the issue they are encountering using our products
- Enabling finance to find the optimal mix and discount for marketing accounts receivables (AR)
- Minimizing the fraud perpetuated in commerce transactions
- Driving proactive support by notifying our customers of potential issues before they happen in the customers environment, and recommending mitigation/resolutions paths enabling customer delight
- Enabling Robotic Process Automation during our order taking and order creation processes to drive automated & expedited order processing
- Optimizing the levels of inventory across the supply chain -deciding where to hold inventory -in finished goods, in intermediate goods or in raw materials
- Driving logistics and transportation cost reductions, and reducing/optimizing time to delivery across a supply chain network
AIM: What is the size and hierarchical alignment (both depth and breadth), of your analytics group?
PC: At VMware, the BI & Analytics team is considered a business function and we report to the CFO. The teams are aligned to support the business functions such as sales, marketing, finance, global support, etc. We leverage the skills and time zones across the USA, Costa Rica, UK & Ireland, Bulgaria, India, and Singapore to speed our analytical delivery for our stakeholders. The internal team leverages talent from our analytics partners with about 200 FTE supporting Analytics and BI within VMware.
AIM: What kind of knowledge and skill-sets do you look for, while recruiting your workforce?
PC: A combination of skills drive the superhuman data scientist (do they really exist?, maybe we all could find only a few around). We look for strengths in at least a couple of the key areas – in my opinion, the key vectors that characterise the medley of skills required encompass the following
- Business skills -understanding the business function, the ability to execute the output of analytics in the field, understanding the business impact, …
- Technical skills -characterised by an ability and desire to code -there is still some time before we can use an excel formula for decision tree approaches and yet make sense of the results! I tend to club the data exploration skills into this bucket too (though some of my peers would separate it out) -ability to identify the right sample, biases, data exploration to identify the features
- Modeling skills -applied mathematics, statistics, optimization and simulation skills
- And last but not the least, soft skills required to translate the (sometimes) complex analytics into (easy) business speak
AIM: What is the roadmap for analytics at VMWare?
PC: At VMware, we have had tremendous support from our stakeholder in leveraging analytics in the decision-making. We have been able to drive significant (and measured) value with incremental revenue and cost savings across the key projects that have been implemented. Creating a pull for advanced analytics in the decision-making is well under way -one knows that job is done when demand for analytics outstrips the capacity. Embedding advanced analytics in the decision-making fabric, enabling data sciences into driving automated decision-making is the next frontier.
AIM: Would you like to highlight some of the most significant challenges you face being in analytics space?
PC: The incredible visibility for data sciences and advanced analytics (should I say hype, approaching the peak of the hype cycle) has served us well, in creating pull for skills creation in the space, to business stakeholder recognizing (sometimes demanding AI/ML) the need for such analytics. It has also created a downside that serves as key challenges as we strive to embed, augment advanced analytics into decision-making: the very stakeholders that leverage decision support with these advanced analytical techniques, get apprehensive with the (hype around) the replacement of humans in decision-making. The visible draw for data sciences has created the proverbial “hammer looking for a nail” with freshly minted data sciences graduates “interested in building the data science models, not necessarily solving the business problem”. For the business, the adoption of data science solutions into execution –“productionizing” the analytics, remains a formidable frontier
AIM: How do you think ‘Analytics’ as an industry is evolving today? Could you tell us the most important contemporary trends that you see emerging in the present analytics space across the globe?
PC: Analytics was and remains a key part of the decision-making process in any enterprise. As compute gets more ubiquitous, analytics will drive more decision-making to the Edge (the intersection of the digital and the physical world). What we see in the consumer world at the Edge -google maps making routing “decisions”, facebook feeds driving news content consumption, has made and will continue to make headway in the b2b world. Quantitative and computer trading accounts for the vast majority of trades in the US exchanges already, autopilot commercial jets, etc. When will self-driving cars push the split-second decision-making to the on-board (trained) computer in our cars? We will be seeing tremendous advances in robotics process automation; augmenting, and in some cases, embedding analytics into the decision-making. The question is not how or why but when and to what extent.
AIM: Would you like to add anything?
PC: Analytics is fun, Analytics is here to stay and Analytics will free humankind from the mundane decision-making to enable us to solve problems we have not imagined before! Get on with it, don’t get left behind!