Interview: Sharmila Mulligan, ClearStory Data on Variety & Velocity to be Big Data Priorities

We discuss the ClearStory Data’s competitive differentiation, client use case, Big Data trends, advice, desired soft skills in data scientists and more.

Sharmila MulliganSharmila Shahani-Mulligan is CEO & Founder of ClearStory Data. Sharmila also serves on the Board of Hadapt, a big data company and on the Board of Lattice-Engines and is advisor to numerous software start-ups. Previously Sharmila served as Executive Vice President for Aster Data, where she led product strategy, all marketing functions, business development and inside sales.

Prior to Aster Data, Sharmila Mulligan was Chief Marketing Officer of the largest business unit (BTO) within HP Software responsible for marketing a $3+ billion software products portfolio spanning all major aspects of IT management. Before joining HP, Sharmila served as Executive Vice President of Marketing at Opsware Inc., a publicly traded company and leader in the Data Center Automation market. Mulligan has worked as Vice President at Totality and Netscape communication. She has also held managerial positions at General Magic, Microsoft and HP’s PC business (PSG).

She received her masters in management from the Kellogg Graduate School and her BA in business & economics and BS in computer science from Northwestern University.

First part of interview.

Here is second and last part of my interview with her:

Anmol Rajpurohit: Q6. How do you differentiate ClearStory Data from its intense competition?

Sharmila Mulligan: We differentiate in 3 ways:

  1. The ability to automate data blending and harmonization of multiple data types and sources differentiationand avoiding all the time-consuming and complex data wrangling,
  2. Allow very deep, iterative exploration of insights across large data sets and types that anyone can do without the need for specialized skills, and
  3. Enable distribution of information via interactive and collaborative StoryBoards that dramatically ease business user consumption of data.

These benefits are very clear for anyone who uses or has seen ClearStory in action.

AR: Q7. So far, what has been the most memorable ClearStory Data use case from a client?

SM: ClearStory helps customers in a variety of industries including retail, media & entertainment, consumer packaged goods (CPG), food & beverages, and healthcare. In the CPG industry, improving in-store product placement, and identifying trends that drive sales at each location, can lead to major opportunities to increase sales. However, the various stakeholders that make up the modern supply chain for CPG companies are often seeing a slice of the supply product-placementchain versus gaining a holistic view to optimize sell through.

ClearStory Data provides a central point of access to critical internal and external data for finding insights to improve product availability, promotion execution and sales strategies through the retail channel. By using ClearStory, a fortune 500 CPG company is able to analyze disparate data on product inventory, orders, distribution center flow-through and location-specific sales and promotions in near real-time. As they move their products from warehouses to standard grocery store shelves to endcaps during promotion periods, the company’s business analysts now have the visibility into how consumers respond to their products based on placement in each store along with the performance of weekly ad promotions.

AR: Q8. What key trends will drive the growth of Big Data industry for the next 2-3 years? What factors will play a critical role in the success of Big Data projects?

Organizations have traditionally been focused on Data Volume as the main driver for their Big Data needs. However, Data Variety and Data Velocity will be the key trends that will drive this industry going forward.

Organizations today rely on data that resides in different silos: relational databases, flat files, “big data” platforms, cloud-based services and thousands of external data sources. As the number of diverse data sources and data types continue to proliferate Data Variety will become increasingly daunting and costly to wrestle. The ability to address the challenge harnessing this data variety to generate crucial business insights will be absolutely critical to any Big Data project.

Similarly, the velocity at which data is created and how it flows across various systems within an organization is increasing dramatically. The ability to handle the scale of this data influx and to quickly uncover key insights will help organizations stay ahead. Speeding this process from data to decisions will play a critical role that will enable organizations to leverage Big Data to their competitive advantage.

AR: Q9. What is the best advice you have got in your career?

Find your ‘product-market’ fit before you scale a company.

Most start-ups tend to scale product-market-fitthe company without really finding their product-market fit. That is dangerous as it is not prudent to scale before you know your sweet spot in the market and precisely how customers value your product. At ClearStory, we’re particular about experiencing the sweet spot and addressing the market gap head on before we started scaling.

AR: Q10. What soft skills do you think are the most important for practitioners in the field of Data Science?

business-perspectiveSM: Understanding the business perspective and the questions the business is trying to answer from data versus looking at every problem as an analytics model from a technical perspective. Also realizing that most users are not able to work with data the way data scientists can so how the information is ‘delivered’ to business users to make it more consumable is critical.

Data science practitioners need to understand that insights are only valuable if they can be converted into decisions and actions that generate business value. Data scientists need to ensure that their insights make it easy for the business to make these decisions and generate business value.

hard-thing AR: Q11. What was the last book that you read and liked? What do you like to do when you are not working?

SM: My most recent book I read was Ben Horowitz’s book titled, The Hard Thing about Hard Things. It was direct, frank and very true to the experiences of entrepreneurs and running a company. When not working, I like to ski, water ski, run, and spend time with my 3 kids.