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The next time you’re downtown, stop and look around you: people, stores, banks, transit, restaurants, stoplights -- all of them constantly generating and consuming data. Now think back to the people, all of them with their own destinations, purpose, concerns, needs and schedules -- more data.

Since 2000, when he co-founded Fractal Analytics in Mumbai, Srikanth Velamakanni has been looking closely at the data that defines our lives, our jobs, our towns, even ourselves. Fractal has helped scores of clients sort it all out to better serve each customer, analyzing client data along with its in-house data warehouse to provide near real-time solutions. 

Fractal moved to New Jersey in 2005, then relocated again to San Mateo, Calif. in 2010 to be closer to Silicon Valley. It just opened an office in Rome, will soon expand to Switzerland and has already opened in Canada. Today it provides data analytics services to companies with revenues of $10 billion to $100 billion in sales, deriving 55 percent of its revenue from the retail/packaged goods sector, 40 percent in financial services/insurance and 5 percent from technology and telecom.

Fractal's New Market

The company is about to branch into the area of life sciences and healthcare, perhaps the hottest sector in the US economy with the implementation of national healthcare underway. Just as data can help a retailer understand a customer’s needs better, Fractal believes it can help doctors to better understand the needs of their patients.

CMSWire had he chance to sit down with Velamakanni and Fractal CMO Careen Foster to discuss what companies to do to better meet the needs of their customers while leaving consumers in control of the data in their lives. 

Murphy: When I think of predictive analytics, I think of it as part of a rainbow. These days, I think of customer expectation management as being most of that rainbow. How do you think about customer expectations in relation to analytics?

Velamakanni: When we talk about customer expectations, there are two aspects to it. Obviously, there's a whole host of data that we have about customers, their transactions with the firm, their data transactions and other things. Using all that, we can have a 360-degree view of the customer -- what they like, what they don't like -- we can get really, really specific. Are you a Nikon guy or a Canon guy? Do you like iPhone or Android? Microsoft of Google? Every single thing.  As a retailer, you can understand your customer in a similar way -- hundreds of thousands of variables. So the first part is to understand customers truly by understanding transaction data.

The second part is about solving their problems in real time, depending on what they're doing right now. So if I'm standing on the street and searching for a restaurant at 12:30 and I have a preference for Chinese cuisine and I tend to spend $100 per meal, now I know which of the 50 restaurants in this neighborhood works best for me. I can solve the customers problem in real time, using all the stuff I know about this customer. Once you understand customers and you can solve their problems, you can get the kind of loyalty that we all want from the customer. 

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There was a study published a year or so ago that said between Google, Facebook and Amazon, people are twice as likely to share their information with Amazon as with Google or Facebook because the relationship with Amazon is clear -- they're selling and we're buying. It's also clear they won't misuse your information. They will use your information to make your experience better. It's not entirely clear what Facebook and Google will do with your data. Sometimes you feel they will use the information for other purposes, or that you are the product, stuff like that. If you can crack these two pieces of the puzzle, I think you're really meeting their expectations. I know you wrote the book Web Rules. In many ways, what you wrote in that book is what is happening now. It was very futuristic back then, but it's all real now.

Murphy: I was going to ask you about customer expectations for privacy, but you got there first.  There are some generational differences, and perhaps some cultural and geographic differences, between people who do or don't give their information online.  I think the reason I don't like it when Facebook tries to push ads on my page is because their analytics aren't as good, and the ads don't match my interests.

Velamakanni: Customers expect to be in control. If you can be transparent with them, say "this is what I'm collecting" and "this is what I'll delete."  Google is doing a little of that. You can see all the data, and you can say "please don't use this information or this information."  Not everyone uses [those options], but they're definitely giving the control to you. You can control what we share and what we don't share. That's what customers expect, and they want to understand that if I let you use this information, this is what I will get in return. I think most of the world is there. 

With Facebook, I don't have any trust in what is happening to my information. All the privacy controls are hidden in so many different places. They're trying to make it better, but a year ago it was not possible to control how your information would be used.

Murphy: We are somewhere down the path towards real-time analytics, but we haven't mastered the art yet.  I suspect it will be years before it's perfected.  Someday, when I'm looking for a quiet place for us to talk near Union Square, I'll be able to go to my phone and get that. But that takes a lot of information and to crunch all that data in real-time is something that is simply not possible today. How long do you think it will be before we get to that totally connected, IoT kind of world?