Big Data Innovator Spotlight Series: Mike Adler, Principal at KPMG

The third and final of our Big Data Innovator Series took place on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016, with guest speaker Mike Adler sharing his wisdom and experience with a collection of students, staff, and faculty.

As a Principal in KPMG’s Insurance Management Consulting practice, Mike has significant experience working with leading insurance and financial services companies to drive transformation leveraging digital, data, analytics, technology, and best operational practices.

He started in accounting after graduating from Pace in 1988. It wasn’t long before he began to feel he needed to get into a new area – technology. “Computer science at the time was starting to evolve,” he said.

mike-adler-3He spent many years working at IBM, including working on Watson. He described how the famous artificial intelligence computer works by explaining that you give it enough information that it can begin to make connections and learn by itself. “You bring in all this data and content; you start teaching Watson what’s important. You teach it the relationships between different pieces of information. Watson starts to learn from that. You teach Watson to be a kindergarten student and Watson learns to become an elementary student, a high school student, and a college student.”

While they were on the topic of data, Dean Hill took the opportunity to ask Mike to give his definition of what big data is. “Big data includes things like social media, all forms of unstructured data, video – anything that you can use that relates to content. The challenge is working out how to get through that mass of information, which is growing exponentially every year, and find the nuggets you can use to make decisions.”

The challenge is a great one. It is estimated that the volume of unstructured data doubles each year, making big data enterprise analytics – the ability to sort through, understand, learn from, and recommend paths of action to take based on that data – is becoming an increasingly sought after skill set.

One of the really cool things Mike spoke about was KPMG’s Innovation Lab located in SoHo. “You walk in and you feel like you’re walking into a WeWork. They use the space to do a lot of Design Thinking and facilitation with clients, but also to do research in technologies and the future.”

After opening the New York Design Factory just a few months ago at Seidenberg, we were delighted to hear that design thinking is being practiced in big companies like KPMG!

“I’m very confident that you are getting some great experiences here, particularly around the technologies and architectures and how to apply them,” Mike said about the Pace education. However, it’s just as important to learn soft skills alongside technical ones. “I’ve found out – sometimes the good way, sometimes the hard way – that soft skills are equally as important.”

Mike is a big proponent of what he called “taking appropriate risks.”

“Before, we were taught to find out what the client wants, what the user wants, and deliver it to them. Now, though, it can be better to take appropriate risks – to say ‘I know this is what you want, but how about this?’ Think about a clean slate approach, think about a vision for the future, and be prepared to take risks around that.”

mike-adler-1What gives him the most pride about his career? “The risks I took. Going from a corporate environment to a consulting environment. When I joined Watson, I had no idea how it was going to take off or what it was going to do, but I took a risk, told myself it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m very glad I did. I’m also very proud of the client relationships I’ve built. In my business, it’s all about the clients and your relationship with them. I wake up every day thinking about who my clients are, what I can bring to them that I haven’t, what my team can do, and what new clients I might get. All my career, I’ve been very focused on mentoring people. I want people to succeed (or fail) with the appropriate guidance. I encourage you to put most of your energy around your clients and the people that work with, for, or around you.”

He also discussed how when you join a new company, the people already established there can be wary about new technology, and that soft skills can help overcome that challenge. Knowing how to help people respond to changes or new ideas is incredibly useful in the technology world. For example, helping the general population learn about why Watson is so significant.

“How do we get Watson to relate to the masses?” Mike asked. “Watson now has its own cookbook!” The idea is that by creating something familiar in an unfamiliar way can open the doors between two separate mindsets. “Technology opens people’s minds.”

A huge thank you to Mike for coming to visit us and sharing such excellent wisdom and advice. Thanks also go out to Deth Sao for organizing this fantastic speaker series!

Previous speakers in the series were David Kelly (MS Information Systems ’94) and Jason Molfetas (BS Computer Science ’87).

Big Data Innovator Spotlight Series: Jason Molfetas, CIO of Amtrak

Continuing our events during Big Data Month came the second installment in our Big Data Innovator Spotlight series. Jason Molfetas, the CIO of Amtrak, came to talk shop with Seidenberg on Wednesday, November 16th, 2016.

Jason earned his BS in Computer Science in 1987 at Pace University’s Pleasantville campus. He spoke about going on some of our international trips – something we still do several times a year when we send students to places like Finland and Austria!

After 28 years in industry gaining expertise in marketing, sales, and technology, Jason was pleased to return to the Seidenberg School to share his wisdom, particularly when it comes to leadership and adding value to your position.

Dean Jonathan Hill kicked off the session by gesturing to the many students present and asking Jason how he got from that chair (the ones the students were sitting in) to this one (the one in front of the audience).

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“It starts where you are right now,” Jason replied. “You have to remember that, like many things you’re doing, the reason you chose to come to Pace wasn’t just on a whim. You probably did a lot of analysis; you did research – that’s what we do in the work world.”

He spoke about his time at Pace and the benefits he gained from it. “Pace was phenomenal for getting me an internship where I could get the skills I needed to go out and get work in the real world.”

Another of Jason’s key points was about gaining experience and developing your skills. For first jobs, he recommended going for positions that offered great experience rather than focusing on great pay. “It’s not about the pay – for now, the future, it’s not about a financial income but for the experience.”

Dean Jonathan Hill asked: “What do students need to do to be mentally and technically prepared to get their first job?”

“You need to put down a plan,” Jason said. “What is it you desire? In the beginning, we don’t want to fail, and when you’re new in the work world . . . failure is part of it, but a big part of what we learn from it is integrity and honesty. When you fail, there’s a way to turn it into a success. You learn things, and what you learn is enormously valuable – so it can be a win.”

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Jason then went on to explain his leadership style – “it’s still developing; it never stops” – and shared his 8 steps for success. Here they are!

Jason Molfeta’s 8 Steps for Success

  1. Set a vision and a culture

Customers come first. Aim to exceed their expectations. Think results – proactively deliver rather than asking what your boss wants; show that you have identified what is important by telling them what you want to do then ask if anything is missing.

  1. Add value

Sitting at the table is nice, but if you’re not going to say anything to add value why are you there? Do your homework before going to meetings to ensure you have something to contribute.

  1. Vision, strategy, execution, and metrics

You need to be organized in order to deliver and track results.

  1. Deliver measured results

Metrics help to prove that you are doing your job, whether for operational excellent, revenue management, or improving customer experience.

  1. Drive the digital agenda

Big data is going to be huge in the future and understanding how it works and what you can do with it is key.

  1. Deliver autonomous analytics to your mobile customers

Using cognitive analytics can solve problems before your customer even knows there are any. For example, with Amtrak, if it looks like a reservation is going to be cancelled, the process to book a new one on the customer’s behalf is all automated. The first indicator the customer receives about the issue is their updated booking.

  1. You must create innovative products with simplicity

Steve Jobs and some friends went to a farm and saw a calf being born. They were amazed by how the calf pushed itself up and stepped to its mother for its first drink of milk. Humans teach their kids, but the calf did it all intuitively. Steve Jobs he said he wanted to create products that were intuitive, and nobody has to be trained to use an iPhone.

  1. Talent working together

Michael Schumacher won the F1 championship many times. He said it was won not by him, but how he had the best car, the best tech, and the best team. His team worked seamlessly together to ensure his success.

What an amazing list! Seidenberg students – and Pace students as a whole – would do well to keep this one for future reference!

Jason’s final takeaway was about the path to being CEO. “The future CEO comes from an IT path,” he said. “You have to be ready for it; you have to want it.”

So for all our students who are aiming high – you’re on the right track!

A massive thank you to Jason Molfetas for sharing his incredible wisdom and to Deth Sao for organizing the event! Next up is Mike Adler from KPMG to close out the Big Data Innovator Spotlight series!

Read about the first event in the Big Data series, with guest speaker David Kelly.