Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you bought a gift online for a member of your household on a shared computer, only for the recipient to see targeted ads giving away the surprise. With his first article of 2021, "That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles," Ali Alkhafaji brought the unintended consequences of third-party cookies (literally) home through the story of how targeted ads ruined a surprise gift for his son. Ali understands that stories are how people understand and remember a point, but he backs that storytelling up with knowledge gained from his over 20 years experience in the technology world. He currently serves as chief technology officer at TA Digital. 

Ali also brings a refreshing — and realistic — take on artificial intelligence and machine learning to his columns, based in part on his 10 plus years of research and teaching in the area. 

Fit the Technology to the Problem, Not the Other Way Around

What excites you about your field today?

Two areas are extremely exciting about my field right now: Data and Data Science. Although they are not mutually exclusive, data and data science serve two distinct value propositions in the customer experience (CX) world. For data, the focus is on first-party data and having a full 360 degree view of the customer using the new field of customer data platforms. For data science, the focus is on leveraging machine learning algorithm to create models for experience, personalization, search, automation and many more use cases. Where these two intersect is using ML to create predictive and propensity models in unifying and activation user data. This is, by far, the most exciting use case in digital transformation today.

If people could use only one word to describe you, what word would you want them to use?

I would prefer “Handsome” or “Brilliant” but if I had to guess, I think it would be “Problem-Solver.”

What’s one lesson that we collectively can’t seem to learn?

We continue to fit our business problems and solutions to the technologies we buy, rather than the other way around.

What work-related trend will you be watching in the year(s) ahead?

Learning Opportunities

The value and impact of working remotely versus in-person.

What’s one work-related trend that surprised you? (could be from any point in your career)

Organizations spend small fortunes on the wrong product, solution or priority.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

If you want to explain something, do it by telling a story. Humans love hearing stories.

If you could make one wish for your industry for 2022, what would it be?

I wish brands fully understand and appreciate the value of data. Customer data platforms will run the space over the next three years, whether or not you are a part of it is up to you.