Interview: Brian Kursar, Toyota on Big Data & Advanced Analytics – Cornerstones of Innovation

We discuss the Big Data architecture at Toyota, executives’ perception of Analytics, Toyota Innovation Fair, advice, trends, and more.

Twitter Handle: @hey_anmol

brian-kursarBrian Kursar is Senior Data Scientist and Technology Director - Research and Development for Toyota Motor Sales, USA. In this role, Kursar has end-to-end responsibility for predictive analytics on Big Data across the enterprise. He is the chief architect on the Customer 360 Advanced Analytics and Insights platform at Toyota which powers the Toyota Social Media Intelligence Center as well as the recently launched Customer Return on Experience Analytics Application.

In 2011, his work was recognized in the Gartner BI Excellence awards as a Semi Finalist for architecting Toyota’s first Big Data Analytics application. Kursar has been with Toyota for 12 years. Prior to Toyota, he spent four years developing global supply chain solutions and consulting for the U.S. government in housing and urban - multimedia solutions.

First part of interview

Here is second part of my interview with him:

Anmol Rajpurohit: Q7 . What tools and technologies are most commonly used by the C360 Advanced Analytics and Insights team? Can you share the big picture of the data architecture at Toyota?

Brian Kursar: The Customer 360 Platform has become a blueprint for Big Data and Advanced Analytics at Toyota. Our platform is built primarily on Open Source technologies. In production, we are using Spark MLLib, Core, and SparkSQL, Stanford NLP, Solr for Data Discovery, Apache HBase, and D3 for visualizations. We also recently started using Alpine.
AR: Q8. How have the perception and expectation from Analytics at the executive level changed over the last few years? What factors have played a dominant role in that change?

BK: The last few years have been great as we have seen a tremendous push towards adopting a truly data driven culture at Toyota. Our success with delivering Big Data and Advanced Analytics projects like the Product Quality Analytics system and the C360 Platform have solidified the value add in Advanced Analytics.

AR: Q9. Based on your experience, what do you think are the critical success factors for any Analytics team in the automotive industry?

BK: Domain expertise. Probably true to any industry however, I feel that having a deep understanding of the data, paired with strong understanding with of the Business objectives is a must have to successfully deliver Analytics and Business value.

AR: Q10. You have been awarded several times in the past few Toyota Innovation Fair annual events. Can you describe the event? What ideas did you present? What’s your secret on repeated success at the event?

BK: Wow, Anmol, You’ve really done your homework. The annual Toyota Innovation Fair is an amazing event that happens every year since 2008. It is a chance where Team Members from across the organization can showcase their ideas to help move Toyota forward. These ideas are reviewed by our top executives and have often become fully funded projects. One of the great things about working at Toyota is we have some amazing leadership. Our CIO, Zack Hicks is a strong supporter of Innovation and has been championing this event since its inception.
In 2011, our team presented an idea around the value of being able to blend internal customer data, social media, and machine learning to be able to produce key insights about a customer’s purchase experience. This actually got funded and is part of our C360 Platform today. In 2013, our team presented an idea on how to clear-communicationprovide dynamic and contextual ad copy on our websites. In 2014, our team presented a way on how you could leverage BLE beacons to provide inventory management and contextual data to customers and dealers.

Clear communication on how the ideas will solve tough Business challenges and persistence. Our winning entry from 2014 was really just our failed 2010 entry leveraging BLE instead of RFID and repackaged to focus tighter on the consumer value add versus the dealer benefits.

AR: Q11. What is the best advice you have got in your career?

BK: Building strong relationships and collaboration with the Business is the key to a successful career. You have to always remember that not everyone in the room is a statistician or a software engineer. A strong focus on inclusion is key.

AR: Q12. 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?

big-data-futureBK: I think the more and more Businesses realize the value in record linkage and how Big Data can help achieve this across datasets that were previously in siloed, new ideas on how the data can be leveraged will begin to take shape. The success will continue to depend on the technology continuing to become more and more tightly integrated as the ease of use also continue to improve.

AR: Q13. What qualities do you look for when interviewing for Data Science related positions on your team?

BK: Hands on, technical skills are a must. Communication skills as well. Being able to translate the results of a highly complex model into something that is simple and easy to digest is key. creating-data-driven-organization

AR: Q14. Which book (or article) did you read recently and liked? What keeps you occupied when you are away from work?

BK: A book I’m currently reading (and enjoying) is “Creating a Data-Driven Organization” by Carl Anderson. When I’m away from work, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter.

anmol-rajpurohitAnmol Rajpurohit is a software development intern at Salesforce. He is a former MDP Fellow and a graduate mentor for IoT-SURF at UCI-Calit2. He has presented his research work at various conferences including IEEE Big Data 2013. He is currently a graduate student (MS, Computer Science) at UC, Irvine.