Interview: Visual Numerics’ Alicia McGreevey

April 18, 2009
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alicia

Here is an interview with the head of marketing of Visual Numerics, Alicia McGreevey. Visual Numerics® is the leading provider of data analysis software, visualization solutions and expert consulting for technical, business and scientific communities worldwide (see www.vni.com ).

Ajay – Describe your career in science so far. How would explain embeddable analytics to a high school student who has to decide between getting an MBA or a science degree.

Alicia – I think of analytics as analyzing a situation so you can make a decision. To do that objectively, you need data about your situation. Data can be anything: foreign currency exchange rates, the daily temperature here in Houston, or Tiger Woods’ record at the Master’s tournament when he’s not leading after the 3rd round.

Embedding analytics is simply making the analysis part of an application close to, or embedded with, your data. As an example, we have a customer in Germany, GFTA (Gesellschaft Fuer Trendanalysen), who has built an application that embeds analytics to analyze historic and live tick foreign exchange rate data. Their application gives treasuries and traders predictions on what is about to happen to exchange ra


alicia

Here is an interview with the head of marketing of Visual Numerics, Alicia McGreevey. Visual Numerics® is the leading provider of data analysis software, visualization solutions and expert consulting for technical, business and scientific communities worldwide (see www.vni.com ).

Ajay – Describe your career in science so far. How would explain embeddable analytics to a high school student who has to decide between getting an MBA or a science degree.

Alicia – I think of analytics as analyzing a situation so you can make a decision. To do that objectively, you need data about your situation. Data can be anything: foreign currency exchange rates, the daily temperature here in Houston, or Tiger Woods’ record at the Master’s tournament when he’s not leading after the 3rd round.

Embedding analytics is simply making the analysis part of an application close to, or embedded with, your data. As an example, we have a customer in Germany, GFTA (Gesellschaft Fuer Trendanalysen), who has built an application that embeds analytics to analyze historic and live tick foreign exchange rate data. Their application gives treasuries and traders predictions on what is about to happen to exchange rates so they can make good decisions on when to buy or sell.

Embedding analytics is as much a business discipline as it is science. Historically, our analytics have been used predominantly by the government and scientific community to perform heavy science and engineering research. As business intelligence becomes increasingly important to compete in today’s marketplace, our analytics can now be found driving business decisions in industries like financial services, healthcare and manufacturing. Partners like Teradata and SAP are embedding our analytics into their software as a way to extend their current offerings. As their customers demand more custom BI solutions to fit unique data sets, our analytics provide a more affordable approach to meet that need. Customers now have an option to implement custom BI without incurring the massive overhead that you would typically find in a one-size-fits-all solution.

If you’re a student, I’d recommend you invest time and course work in the area of analytics regardless of the discipline you choose to study. The term analytics is really just a fancy term for math and statistics. I’ve taken math and statistics courses as part of a science curriculum and as part of a business curriculum. Being able to make optimal decisions by objectively analyzing data is a skill that will help you in business, science, engineering, or any area.

Ajay – You have been working behind the scenes quietly building math libraries that power many partners. Could you name a few success stories so far.

Alicia – One of the most interesting things about working at Visual Numerics is our customers. They create fascinating analytic applications using mathematic and statistical functions from our libraries. A few examples:

  • Total, who you probably know as one of the world’s super major oil companies, uses our math optimization routines in an application that automatically controls the blending of components in the production of gasoline, diesel and heavy fuels. By making best use of components, Total helps minimize their refining costs while maximizing revenue.

  • The Physics Department at the University of Kansas uses nonlinear equation solvers from our libraries to develop more efficient particle beam simulations. By simulating the behavior of particle beams in particle accelerators, scientists can better design particle accelerators, like the LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, for high-energy research.

  • A final example that I think is interesting, given the current economic situation, is from one of our financial customers RiskMetrics Group. RiskMetrics uses functions from our libraries to do financial stress testing that allows portfolio fund managers simulate economic events, like the price of oil spiking 10% or markets diving 20%. They use this information to predict impacts on their portfolio and make better decisions for their clients.

Ajay – What have been the key moments in Visual Numerics path so far.

Alicia – Our company has been in business for over 38 years, rooted in the fundamentals of mathematics and statistics. It started off as IMSL, offering IMSL Numerical Libraries as a high-performance computing tool for numerical analysis. Before visualization was fashionable, we saw visualization as an important part of the data analysis process. As a result, the company merged with Precision Visuals, makers of PV-WAVE (our visual data analysis product) in the 1990s to become what is now known as Visual Numerics.

Looking back at recent history, a major event for Visual Numerics was definitely when SAP AG licensed the libraries at the end of 2007. For several years leading up to 2007, we’d seen increased interest in our libraries from independent software vendors (ISVs). More and more ISVs with broad product offerings were looking to provide their customers with analytic capabilities, so we had invested considerably in making the libraries more attractive to this type of customer. Having SAP, one of the largest and most respected ISVs in the world, license our products gave us confidence that we could be a valued OEM partner to this type of customer.

Ajay – What are the key problems you face each day at Visual Numerics. How do you have fun when not building math libraries?

Alicia – In marketing, our job is to help potential users of our libraries understand what it is we offer so that they can determine if what we offer is of value to them. Often the hardest challenge we face is simply finding that person. Since our libraries are embeddable, they’ve historically been used by programmers. So we’ve spent a lot of time at developer conferences and sponsoring developer websites, journals and academic programs.

One product update this year is that we’ve made the libraries available from Python, a dynamic scripting language. Making IMSL Library functions available from Python basically means that someone who is not a trained programmer can now use the math and stats capabilities in the IMSL Libraries just like a C, Java, .Net or Fortran developer. It’s an exciting development, though it brings with it the challenge of letting a whole new set of potential users know about the capabilities of the libraries. It’s a fun challenge though.

On a more fun side of things, you may be interested to know that our expertise in math and statistics led us to some Hollywood fame. At one point in time, we were selected to review scripts for the crime busting drama, NUMB3RS. NUMB3RS aired on CBS in the U.S. and features an FBI special agent who recruits his brilliant mathematician brother to use the science of mathematics with its complex equations to solve the trickiest crimes in Los Angeles. So yes, the math behind the show is real, and it is exciting indeed to see how math can be applied in all aspects of our lives, including ferreting out criminals on TV!

Ajay – Looking ahead, how do you think Visual Numerics can help demand forecasting and BI to say BYE to the recession.

We’re seeing more success stories from customers using analytics and data to make good decisions, and I think the more organizations leverage analytics, the faster we’ll emerge from this economic slump.

As an example, we have a partner, nCode International, that makes software to help manufacturers collect and analyze test data and use the analysis to make design decisions. Using it, automobile manufacturers can, for example, analyze real-world driving pattern data for different geographic areas (e.g., emerging markets like China and India versus established markets like the USA and Europe) and design the perfect vehicle for specific markets.

So the analytic successes are out there and we know that organizations have multitudes of data. Certainly every organization that we work with has more data today than ever before. For analytics to help us say good-bye to the recession, I think we need to continue to promote our successes, make analytic tools available to more users, and get users across multiple disciplines and industries using analytics to make the best possible decisions for their organizations.

Personal Biography:

As Director of Marketing for Visual Numerics, Alicia is an authority on how organizations are using advanced analytics to improve performance. Alicia brings over 15 years of experience working with scientists and customers in the planning and development of new technology products and developing go to market plans. She has a B.A. in Mathematics from Skidmore College and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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