TIBCO’s Vivek Ranadivé on the “Death of Science,” the Rise of Pattern Recognition, and the Power of Data in Basketball

8/10/11Follow @wroush

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buy tickets but don’t buy merchandise. There are other people who buy merchandise but don’t buy tickets. If you look at their zip code, it may turn out that they are too far away. That visual analysis pops out at you and tells you who to up-sell to. I can actually apply the same thing to the game: what combination of players produces the best results, where each player should be shooting from, where the other guys are when they shoot, and when I should defend them and not let them shoot from there.

X: Aren’t you basically talking about taking advantage of “big data”? This is the same trend that scores of storage device makers and data warehouse appliance makers and data center performance management software providers are pushing.

VR: The database companies will have you believe that “big data” equals databases. That’s just a scam so they can sell you big databases. It’s true that the amount of data is going up. If you look at the amount of information produced from the beginning of time to 2008, and the amount of information produced between 2008 and now, it’s ten times more. It’s mind-boggling. But the other side of the story is that the half-life of the data is coming down, the amount of time you have to react is coming down. The data has to be finding you—you can’t find the data. If you want to put it in a database, do so by all means, but you’re going to find out after the fact that you got hacked or that you lost a customer or that a fraud was committed, and it’s going to be too late. We filter in real time and apply the logic in real time, and then decide what to do. We are a real-time nervous system that gets smarter on its own.

X: Go back to the basketball example. Are you really using TIBCO software to help coach the Warriors in real time?

VR: You are not actually using the visual analytics technology while you are playing the game. This is more of a situation where you are finding A, B, and C. You pour in the data and you get a visualization. You don’t know why, but you find that if you have these five guys playing, it’s producing the best results. That’s very useful. Or you look at your players and you see what their sweet spot is for shooting, so you make sure to feed them the ball when they’re there. Or even better, you look at your opponent, and you find that the star who’s scoring the most points has a certain place that he likes to shoot from, so you make sure he never gets to go there. There is amazing amounts of data available on every athlete in the NBA. I don’t want to give away what we’re doing, but eventually it’s going to be possible to make adjustments during an actual game.

X: As part owner of the Warriors, you’re interested in the business side of the team too, right? How do the tools help there?

VR: We have found, as I was saying before, that 35 percent of people who are buying tickets are not buying merchandise, and vice versa. That creates an easy cross-sell or up-sell opportunity for us. If we know that a guy bought a cap three years ago, maybe it’s time to give him a new cap. There’s so much opportunity to implement loyalty programs, all based on knowing “If A, B, and C, then D.”

X: With all of this automation of sales intelligence, I wonder whether you guys are leaving any room for old fashioned salesmanship, based on human intuition about a customer’s needs?

VR: We are all for that, except that we have a feedback loop that will tell you much faster than anyone else whether it’s working or not. Which is kind of what Zynga does. They have no idea which games are going to fly. They just throw them out there and do constant A/B testing. Twenty-first century companies like Zynga have made a business out of this. You can test your intuition more quickly.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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