SI Academy Speaker: Arvind Thapar

On the afternoon of Thursday, March 7th, Iowa MBA alumnus Arvind Thapar spoke to the Strategic Innovation Academy. Mr. Thapar graduated with his MBA in 1994 and then immediately pursued another graduate degree at Iowa in Information Systems. He now works for IBM as a WW Banking/Financial Markets Industry Specialist based out of Omaha, Nebraska.

During the course of his talk, Mr. Thapar touched upon such topics as big data, advanced analytics, consulting work, the cloud, IBM’s corporate culture, and his own career path after graduating from the University of Iowa. Arvind Thapar told Tippie’s SI students and some faculty members that he had pursued his Information Systems degree after earning his MBA because he had always been fascinated by data, and that he wanted to speak knowledgeably about the subject. He also expounded on the need to speak the language of business, even if it meant that one might eventually become the victim of “buzzword bingo.”

In terms of IBM, Mr. Thapar mapped out the basic analytics stream processes employed by his firm. In these processes the customers, credit position, and character of the client company are identified. In the financial sector, the ability to access and generate capital is also of substantial consequence. Finally, the costs of potential projects must be addressed, but not in a vacuum that cuts out the landscape of customers, competitors, and the company.

Mr. Thapar also remarked at length on the impact of people, products/platforms, and processes with regard to advanced analytics. A fourth “P,” that of “power,” was also added to the mix, as electricity is a necessary ingredient for both profitability and productivity, especially in terms of cloud-based operations and services. As big data goes, the volume, velocity, and variety of information are all increasing at a rapid clip. According to Mr. Thapar, advanced analytics is a tool that potentially lends this data the property of veracity.

Micro-segmentation also came up in the course of the conversation. Increasingly, banks and other entities are viewing the customer as a unique segment. In order to reach this person, companies need to ask what is important to a specific and singular individual. Micro-targeting via this segmentation methodology has led to some dramatic success stories in areas ranging from credit card sign-ups to crime prevention in the city of Memphis during New Year’s Eve. Additionally, text analytics are becoming more contextually sensitive. Software can now derive the context of language employed and recorded, and the practice of advanced analytics makes this micro-segmentation not only possible, but also potentially very successful.

Mr. Thapar stressed the importance of the role of the Chief Information Officer within firms at present. Often times, these CIOs are effectively transforming into the Chief “Innovation” Officer of their respective companies. Speaking of innovation, IBM’s Watson supercomputer was also a topic of discussion.  Firms such as Citi and BMW are employing parts of the Watson product offering in order to improve different aspects of their businesses.

Finally, our guest speaker spoke to the subject of work/life balance, what it is like to be a “road warrior,” the importance of listening in cross-cultural/cross-country team-based scenarios, and what it is like to compromise on time zone differences in the course of doing business globally. All in all, it was a wonderfully informative talk and a great presentation. It is talks like these that help differentiate the Strategic Innovation Academy here at the Tippie School of Management. I know that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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