Q&A: Unisys Explains How Analytics Can Become Tangible Assets for Corporations and Solve Public Sector Problems
Unisys was one of the many companies to showcase their latest products and solutions at ANDICOM last month. The annual gathering in Cartagena brings together some of the biggest names in ICT and has become one of the must-attend outings for tech firms in Latin America.
Two of Unisys’ top executives used some of their time to enlighten conference-goers about the advances they have made in analytics in recent years. The following are the highlights of a Q&A featuring Rod Fontecilla, vice president and global leader of analytics at Unisys, and Carlos Ferrer, president for Latin American enterprise solutions.
What is Unisys doing in terms of analytics and encouraging organizations to use their data in an intelligent way? Can you share some success stories implemented by Unisys using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced data analysis?
Rod Fontecilla: Thanks for the chance to talk about and show the new face of Unisys, with which we present the analytics services that we are offering to our clients, not only in Latin America — and specifically in Colombia — but also in the whole world.
About four years ago, one of the things that we did was give support to the Department of Homeland Security in the United States, where we have almost 300 data scientists. We analyzed the flow of passengers going in and out of the country, trying to identify terrorist threats against the United States. What we also do there is to identify and analyze the cargo — the packages going in and out of the United States — to identify threats.
With that we have a lot of data. We run the biggest Oracle Data Warehouse in the world — 1.3 billion transactions per day — and these data scientists produce more than 700,000 predictive models every day. So we now bring out that methodology and experience —and the quality of people that we have there — and offer it to the commercial sector and all of Unisys’ clients worldwide.
Carlos Ferrer: An important theme within Unisys’ transformation process is to bring in all of the knowledge that we have developed to benefit commercial business. It very much supports everything that has to do with digital transformation.
The subject of analytics is very interesting. Infinite propositions exist in the market for clients to evolve within this new model, incorporating it into management, analysis, and the use of information. In the case of Unisys, we have a very specific value proposition based on the experience we have with providing a solution — a model or service where clients don’t have to make big investments. Rather, simply by giving out and printing all the information that they have at their disposal — by giving that information to us — we use the data system that we have to develop those mathematical models that do the machine learning practically with those analytical models and those algorithms.
Through this, we are able to give out predictive information so that companies can take business decisions that allow them to improve. That’s the value proposition we’re celebrating this year. And apart from that we’re celebrating 25 years with Cintel — the ICT Technical Development Center — while sharing with the clients and sharing with the market.
Some companies are beginning to consider data as their most important asset. But many of them wonder how to put a value on those assets to be able to put them into their accounting books. First of all, is that possible? And second, how do you calculate the value of that asset?
Rod Fontecilla: That’s a very good question, because that’s just the conversations we’re having with clients. They’re trying to understand how to transform this data into information and then transform that information into an added value. So what we do is a very simple life cycle.
You take the data and you create that algorithm of machine learning. These are algorithms that learn. The more information you give them, the better they perform. And the more intelligent they become, eventually you create what is called a predictive model.
So what do you do with that predictive model? You can use that predictive model to understand the consumer better. You can offer better services to the consumer. You can understand when you want to offer him specific services. Or it could be a predictive model to identify fraud in the banking company. It could be a predictive model to understand when a consumer is going to stop being your client.
It could be a predictive model, for example, for airlines to know what the prediction will be when you send a package from Bogotá to Miami. Which is the best airline for you to use if you want your package to arrive on time with a margin of error of only two or three hours?
To sum up, the applications are in every field, and once you make your predictive model, you calculate the score, and with the score from that predictive model you take decisions. And they are decisions that are going to affect your business. You might decide to increase your revenue by 30% in the next quarter, or you might reduce it by 5%. But what the predictive model provides you with in the end is the use of this data so as to be able to take decisions that will immediately impact your business.
So yes, it is possible, and what Unisys is doing is bringing in the necessary tools to be able to do that. Because organizations are not able at this time to create those predictive models for many reasons. One of them is the quantity of data that they have to analyze in incredibly large. Secondly, the quantities of data are not structured now — but rather they are unstructured. You want to analyze the videos, you want to analyze the pictures, you want to analyze the tweets, you want to analyze Facebook, and you want to correlate all that data to understand and provide the added value.
So if you look at everything that Unisys is proposing, it is an analytic platform in the cloud — ready to be used — where you can ingest any kind of data that you want at any time. We can start to work with clients right away, from tomorrow. We have the data scientists who will be able to work immediately with those clients, and we have these predictive models in certain industries that have already been tested and implemented, which will allow us to implement these predictive models immediately in certain industries.
Carlos Ferrer: All of the data that a company has at its disposal should really generate a return and a value. It can make use of that information to increase sales, to improve an operative model, to reduce costs, to improve the margin, to expand in the market, or to develop globalization strategy. In as much as the information generates a benefit with respect to your business, that information becomes an asset that has a value.
“The information that a company has really does have a value. It is an asset that can be taken advantage of for the benefit of the company. What analytics does is make that value a tangible.” – Carlos Ferrer of Unisys
Think about how a company represents itself as a brand. What is the value of a company’s brand? It’s an intangible value. What is the value of the brand good for? Why is one brand worth more than another? Because the brand in itself helps you to penetrate in a market, it helps you to generate sales, and it helps you to generate business. That’s why you value one brand more than another.
It’s the same with data. The information that a company has really does have a value. It is an asset that can be taken advantage of for the benefit of the company. What analytics does is make that value a tangible.
From Unisys’ point of view, where are the Colombian financial entities in their implementation of analytics? Do they already understand its value and are they already implementing it? Are they already advanced, are they halfway there, or are they lagging behind in the implementation of analytics?
Rod Fontecilla: I would say that at the worldwide level — not only in Colombia — it’s just starting out. People are beginning to realize how powerful it is to use data to create these predictive models to give you business value.
Specifically in Colombia, I think that they’ve realized that those are obviously areas where they have to invest, and Colombia is investing and wants to continue investing. They know how much value they’re going to get out of it, and they’re placing great emphasis not only on the analytics part but also on the Internet of Things, and those two are going to be the fundamental part in making digital transformations that are necessary for getting added value.
So we see it, at least from the banking viewpoint, there are many banks that are Unisys’ clients where they are even implementing analytic solutions. There are others that are very interested in what we are offering them. But there are some also in other industries, including the government, the public sector, transport, and airlines. The Colombian minister recently commented on how in Avianca is focused completely on being a digital company rather than on solely being an airline.
In summary, you are seeing it here in Colombia but it’s a worldwide change. This is affecting everyone. You can see it in Singapore where the first driverless taxis go to pick you up. Those cars can go without a driver because they’re using machine learning algorithms to understand the traffic and react to the traffic and react to the new situations and to react in near real time. This is something that is going to change astonishingly in the next two years in the same way as technology has changed in the last nine years with these little devices that we all carry around with us.
Carlos Ferrer: Specifically in the financial sector, I think that in Colombia we’re taking the first steps. For many years the banks were the first to invest in technology and to implement large data warehouse systems to store a lot of information. They were the ones to start to be business intelligent to better understand their business — to take business decisions based on historical information on what was happening. And they’re starting to invest and understand much more about the subject of analytics.
They have invested in some tools and some solutions. Some are a bit more advanced than others, but it’s a natural process and you have to understand that these companies have also invested a lot of money in traditional information management solutions. At some point, they have to turn around and get rid of those investments and start again from scratch investing in new technology. That is not necessarily very easy to do.
The other thing is that they need a level of knowledge and internal expertise. They require data scientists. They require people who are really prepared and trained to develop predictive models and to do machine learning in Colombia. There are still few engineers who have that level of knowledge, and the few that there are either receive offers from abroad or they join a company.
There are some companies that are trying to create businesses dedicated to offering those kinds of engineers and services to companies. So we’re in that maturing process. As Rod was saying, it’s not only in Colombia. I think that the markets are in that process of taking on this new technology and taking on these new trends at the worldwide level. There are much more advanced industries — companies that were born digital — in today’s world of services. They are based on the use of analytics to be able to develop. But the ones that come from the traditional model are just in that position.
What is the meaning of this ANDICOM platform for you? Year after year you are present here, bringing new propositions. What does it mean for you to be in ANDICOM, and what do you take away from the multiple presentations made by different expositors? And what can we do to improve next year?
Rod Fontecilla: I was impressed. I’ll tell you, coming from the United States, I’m fascinated — not only by the technical part and how advanced the people who are promoting their solutions are — but I was also very impressed by the talk by the minister. He showed how Colombia is investing in technology and in digital transformation. He even showed that Colombia is in second place and the United States in first.
This emphasis by the government on digital transformation and investment, to me it seemed fantastic. I didn’t come expecting to get that message from the Colombian people and the Colombian government. I was fascinated by it.
“Colombia is investing in technology and in digital transformation. This emphasis by the government on digital transformation and investment, to me it seemed fantastic.” – Rod Fontecilla of Unisys
And ANDICOM, as a place to experience, has been fabulous. So on the last point of your question, about how to improve, the truth is I don’t know what to say to you. Everything is really very good up to now. The food in Cartagena is fabulous, too, and the place is incredibly beautiful. It really makes you want to come and spend a few days here.
Carlos Ferrer: Well, personally for me — and for Unisys, too — ANDICOM represents many things. Let me give you an example: This year, Unisys is marking 30 years as a brand. We’ve been in Colombia for a little more than 60 years, but with the brand name “Unisys,” we’re marking 30 years this year. And Cintel is marking 25.
I think we’ve been coming to this event for 25 years. Originally it used to be Cintel’s event, and then throughout its process of evolution up to becoming what ANDICOM is today. It’s a very important platform for Unisys and for all the service providers and product suppliers in the market to show what we have and what we’re doing for clients.
This is an event that was initially was very much about telecommunications, but nowadays it’s really about IT. And year after year, you can see how it goes on evolving and becoming more relevant on the regional level. We have people from many countries attending and visiting us at ANDICOM, getting to know about what we’re doing. It marks the important leadership in Colombia and in the region in the process of technology transformation.
What priorities does Unisys have about applying analytic solutions in cities, especially to attend to critical needs on subjects such as health, education, mobility? In this environment of intelligent cities, all these concepts that we talk about nowadays are becoming important solutions. How can they really have an impact on the technology of the city?
Rod Fontecilla: Well, this is a very good question because it’s an area in which Unisys is using analytics at the present time. I’ll give you an example, not necessarily in Colombia but in the United States. We work with the Los Angeles County to help them to identify where there will be a greater incidence of people living on the streets. So we are helping them to create predictive models to try to identify in which areas of the county homelessness is increasing. And we provide them with indicators on how to really eliminate homelessness, because the more you reduce homelessness, the more money the county has to help other families.
We are also promoting giving dashboards to the city of Chicago — just what you were saying about smart cities. But at this moment, the cities are collecting the data and they don’t know what to do with it. So what we did with the city of Chicago is help them to correlate all of that data and provide the predictive models to help them.
With the city of Chicago, we are correlating data from the high school system with crime and with real estate. This is to provide the people who go to live in Chicago — to help them understand — the crime rate and the predictability of where crimes will take place in the next six months. So, maybe, if you have children between the ages of nine and 13 years old who are going to be exposed to that crime rate, well maybe you should go somewhere else. Or you can see where the government is investing in the public school system, and what amounts the government is investing.
“[Banks] require data scientists. They require people who are really prepared and trained to develop predictive models and to do machine learning in Colombia.” – Carlos Ferrer of Unisys
The good thing about these models is that we could bring them here to Colombia immediately, and we could work with the government in Bogotá or with the government in Cartagena on the same problems. These are worldwide problems, not just in the United States or Colombia. We can take them to any country, and that’s what we’re offering clients as far as the public sector is concerned.
Carlos Ferrer: Something interesting about these predictive models in the public sector is that not only doe they help government entities know what is going to happen, but the innovations also can tell them what preventative measures to implement in order to prevent it from happening. The more you know about the behavior and the probabilities of something happening, the more preventative action you can take before it happens. And you can then go about improving the quality of life, which, in the end, is what government entities are trying to do.
In terms of the post-conflict in Colombia, for example, Unisys has many tools that can be very useful. Solutions can address questions of the post-conflict and re-inserting, not only in this case the FARC, but for example of all the people that have some kind of relationship with the conflict situation and are being impacted by this peace process.
So there are many tools that can be used by the central government to have far better management and better understanding of the situations and surroundings that they are handling. These tools can bring benefits to the communities and help officials use these processes in a much easier way.