Post authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Specialist
For event organizers, data intelligence is quickly ascending as a crucial skill set to master, as they strive to compete in today’s rapidly-changing business environment.
Thad Lurie has long been a champion for leveraging data as a business performance catalyst. He’s been studying this complex data landscape for more than fifteen years, in leadership roles he’s held at various associations – most recently, as Chief Information Officer at EDUCAUSE.
Now, Thad’s making a leap from the association world to corporate, as he joins Experient as Vice President of Business Intelligence and Performance. I caught up with him recently to learn more about his new role and the initiatives he’ll be tackling in 2018.
Donna: Let’s start with a closer look at your new role at Experient. Can you tell us more about the work you’ll be doing?
Thad: My official title at Experient is Vice President of Business Intelligence and Performance. It’s interesting, but we had several conversations before landing on this title. Earlier, we were focused on technology and data analysis, but business performance sweeps broader than technology.
No doubt, data intelligence can catalyze business performance, but we need to start by examining strategy and business goals first. For some organizations, their most important goal might be to grow attendance or membership. For others, it might be increasing revenue or improving member experiences or something else.
As I think back on the conversations I’ve had with association colleagues, quite a few are still fuzzy about goals or they’re pursuing the same goals they’ve been chasing for years. Are these goals still valid? How can you be sure?
There’s another set of questions that need to be answered about impact and return on investment, before you can start assembling a data strategy to support these objectives: Once you achieve these goals, what impact will this have on your organization? How will you measure success? What if you fail to achieve these goals? What happens if you stay the course and continue doing what you’ve always been doing?
What excites me about this new role is the opportunity to engage in high-level strategy conversations with association leaders to help them think differently and evaluate potential solutions using a new set of lenses. My ability to look at this from their perspective, as an association leader, will also be helpful.
It’s also important to understand why people attend your events. I participated in a panel at IAEE’s Expo!Expo! There were about 150 people in the room and I asked them: ‘Why are people coming to your events? Do you know or do you think you know?’
Maybe 25 percent of the people in the room raised their hand, indicating they were confident they knew why people come to their events. That means 75 percent are assuming, without capturing and analyzing behavioral data to test their assumptions.
At EDUCAUSE, for years, we were heavy on education programming because many at our organization assumed that most were coming for learning. As we started to analyze behavioral data across several event cycles, many were surprised to discover that networking was a higher priority for many attendees.
When you uncover behavioral insights like these, it can change the entire focus for your conference – and in turn, drive significant shifts in how you address event experience design.
Donna: You’ve spent nearly two decades of your career working at associations. What prompted you to make this leap from associations to corporate?
Thad: My experiences working at associations have been rewarding and my commitment to help this industry advance has never wavered. Not-for-profits and mission-driven organizations are incredibly important, not just for me personally, but for our society as a whole.
With that said, I saw this as an opportunity to not only work for a company I like and respect, but to broaden my influence. I don’t say this in a personal gain sort of way – I could help one organization advance as I did previously or in this new position, I could influence the association industry. The opportunity to help many more associations use data more effectively to advance business performance appealed to me.
I’m also intrigued by the insights we’re discovering as we start to aggregate data across multiple events. We’re analyzing event performance for specific destinations and for specific industry verticals, like medical, education and so on.
Soon, we’ll be sharing these insights not only with event organizers, but with destinations, venues and others who serve this industry. The potential to drive meaningful improvements across our entire industry is substantial.
One final point driving my decision to join Experient is the strong, team-oriented culture they’ve nurtured. There’s an over-arching commitment to help clients be more successful in whatever they do.
Granted, there are revenue goals for Experient, but if there’s a client need that can’t be addressed by Experient, the account managers will often recommend someone else who can help them. I’ve experienced this many times as an Experient client and this extra-mile support was something I valued.
Donna: As you look at how associations are tackling data strategy, what challenges do you see and what remedies can you recommend?
Thad: For some organizations, this concept of data intelligence is still new to them. Most recognize the need to step up their data strategy to compete, but it’s overwhelming, given the massive volumes of data they’re working with. Many aren’t sure where to begin.
Again, it goes back to getting clarity around business performance goals. You can’t do everything in one cycle, but each year, you can advance on a shorter list of most important goals. As you capture and analyze behavioral data, you’ll gain deeper insight on the event experiences your audience values highly.
Knowing the experiences attendees are not consuming can be just as important, as you can now re-allocate resources to fund the things they appreciate more.
There’s one challenge I’ve been exploring lately around the concept of data decay. Think about it – when someone joins an association, they’re often asked to complete a profile. Few take the time to update this profile, but this data is often guiding a myriad of event decisions that are made years later.
Data has an expiration date and the shelf life on data is shrinking. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Data captured yesterday is valuable. Data captured a few months ago may still be good, but many are analyzing data that was captured several years ago. That won’t cut it in today’s business environment.
Now, think about the passive behavioral data that’s being collected constantly at events. We’re often talking about hundreds of behavioral data points captured over the entire event guest journey. That data has far more value and there are more organizations seizing this data-driven intelligence to improve nearly every customer or member touch point.
Donna: You were recently interviewed for an AssociationsNOW article: What Can Artificial Intelligence Do For Your Members? For many, Artificial Intelligence (AI) still feels a bit futuristic. Some might be thinking it’s too soon to give this attention. Your thoughts?
Thad: AI is a very broad term and it encompasses many things: machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing and so on. We’re just starting to scratch the surface on understanding what all of these things can do for us.
Relative to AI, while it may be early, the questions we need to be thinking about now: How can AI improve BI (business intelligence)? How can it improve organizational performance?
The fact of the matter is that organizations have an incredible amount of data to manage. It used to be that we could go to the AMS (association management system), look at an organization’s profile, and get a pretty decent sense of who they are and how they’re engaging with us.
Now the amount of data we’re collecting about organizations has grown exponentially. We’re drowning in data and it’s coming from many different sources – participation at events, webinars, training, certification, volunteer activities, online digital community board activity, etc.
As databases grow, from let’s say three thousand records a few years ago to as many as twenty thousand records and more, the incredible amount of horsepower and mindpower needed to start drawing conclusions from this data to improve experiences becomes more difficult.
That’s where I see AI coming into the picture – there’s no analyst that can keep up with IBM’s Watson. There’s no single person on your staff who can analyze your entire database as fast as AI can.
Will it have the deep judgments a human analyst might have? Probably not, but AI is very good at detecting patterns we can’t see. AI also doesn’t have unconscious bias. All it knows is the data, which is very objective. AI doesn’t have years of experiences working for your organization to factor in, either… at least, not yet.
Will 2018 be the year your organization steps up your business intelligence strategy?
If so, Thad Lurie would be happy to schedule a call with you to learn more about your situation and recommend a few smart strategies to explore. Drop him a line at Thad.Lurie@experient-inc.com.