The new gold

You would never call an actuary sexy. Number logic people just don’t have the suave of a James Bond or the sass of a Marilyn. They are just too precise. Absorbed by detail and loving that a + b = c, especially when b is the reciprocal of the square root of f, they just lack that playful oomph.

That said being a good number cruncher was never a bad career. Thanks to the acute need for their skills, especially from insurance companies treading the tightrope of premiums over risk, data people have always been well paid and in reasonable demand. Over the years it has been quite tricky to get a place on an actuarial degree.

Now, however, sexy is in for the statisticians too, because the mad men need them. Or more strictly, there is a new breed of advertiser who have taken the mix of imagery and psychology invented to persuade us all to buy things to a whole new level. Now it is possible to predict as well as persuade.

Thanks to the already huge and rapid accumulating databanks on our online profiles, our offline purchases and even where we are throughout the day (yep, that handy little app in your smartphone does more than tell you where you are and how long it takes to walk three blocks), it is now possible to track behaviours and from that predict what might happen next, or better still intervene with an irresistible offer.

The mad men who want to place that person specific ad on the right device at the right time need the data crunchers to do the sums.

Here is a simple example. Your Facebook profile says that you like the delectable British soul singer Sade (mine does) and your mobile pings a GPS signal that you are in Sydney. Instantly the ticketing website you use puts two and two together and sends you an email with Sade tour dates. Not only that but her Sydney concert listing is flashing with a special offer of 10% off the usual ticket price. Outcome obvious, you have an outstanding night out and can’t wait for her next tour.

Here is another example. Your credit card purchases at the casino hotel, activity at the gaming tables and even what goes out of the mini-bar in your room are monitored in real time. What you buy, win, and loose on your casino weekend break are matched to a predictive model based on thousands of previous punters that tells the hotel staff the optimum time to offer you a free meal voucher or a discounted show ticket for the next evening. That optimum being the point being just before your instinct tells you to cut your losses and check out.

This is just the start of the thousands of uses that analysis of data can support. Take a moment and you will think of plenty yourself.

Usefulness readily translates into products and services that become a new gold, the nuggets that come from data mining. The vast datasets on what people do, where they do it and when trawled, filtered, analysed and modeled to predict what, where and when they will do next. All so that businesses can deliver a timely intervention.

The talk is of a multi-billion dollar industry built around analysis, interpretation, and prediction, followed by delivery of highly targeted suggestion. It is a whole new field for anyone unfazed by terabytes of data and permutation algorithms…. and who are also unfazed by where the money comes from.

I wonder how many of the new gold diggers will dare to ask.

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