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Interview with Michael Horn (Chief Data Officer, HUGE)

Written by James Bowater on Oct 12, 2018 1:59:18 PM

IBM CDO Summit Insights

Ahead of the IBM Chief Data Officer Summit, Fall 2018 we caught up with one of the 50+ speakers; Michael Horn, who is Chief Data Officer at customer experience agency Huge.  We set out to discover more about his Huge role, how he manages up to 15 meetings a day and why being out on the water with his children is his happy place.

Can you tell us more about Huge and your role as chief data officer?
“Huge is a user-centric experience agency. We build products and physical experiences for clients who are re-thinking how they engage their customers for the digital age. Unlike most “agencies”, who started in advertising and then diversified, Huge started in e-commerce and digital product work, designing transformative sites and apps for Target, JetBlue, IKEA, and HBO. Now we do everything from augmented reality to in-store kiosks.”

How important is the use of data and analytics in the media world?
“Much as the lines between “product” and “marketing” have blurred, in 2018 almost anything can be considered “media”. Media data is no longer about ad units and delivery - it spans everything from word of mouth to social to in-store experiences. As a result, our data sources, methodologies, and strategic integration have totally transformed. Today, data planners are sometimes taking on the role of lead strategists.”

How does data help offer insights into human behavior?
“It’s crazy how rapidly we observe user behaviors changing, with significant milestones every quarter. With every new hardware and software release, we see a re-writing of “average” behaviors. Mobile and social used to be “emerging channels" — now they are indispensable and ubiquitous. Mobile payments and IoT devices are now achieving majority adoption. Retail technology and augmented reality will be equally pervasive in the next two years. I spend half my time helping my clients adapt and the other half helping my own team adapt!”

At the IBM CDO Summit, you are taking part in a panel discussion entitled 'Guardians of the Data Galaxy – Protecting Privacy, Securing Data, & Building Trust'. How important is the issue of data and privacy?
“It’s as important as users are willing to make it. With each breach and scandal we see a spike of consumer outrage, but attention spans are short and real solutions take a long time. The good news is that brands are finally taking the issues seriously and instituting internal policies and protections. But the bad news is that apathy is still the norm, and complacency breeds abuse.”

GDPR has helped to raise awareness but do the public understand enough?
“In short, not even close. The best analogy is to health and financial literacy. As a society, we've known what causes obesity and consumer debt for decades, but there isn’t a 1:1 relationship between awareness and prevention. We’re still fatter and poorer than we should be. In Europe, GDPR will be an important (if imperfect) step in the right direction. In the U.S., we don’t even have the most basic hygiene in place for data literacy and privacy education.”

What’s something you don’t often tell people about yourself?
“In my last role, almost half my job was supporting political and advocacy clients - so I spent as much time looking at civic engagement and voting behaviors as I spent on consumer marketing. My team and I even did a complete political segmentation of the U.S., which was fascinating. So in my work life I tend to look at people through a much broader lens than just how they shop and what they buy.”

What’s your favorite way to relax?
“I own an almost 300 year-old house, and a canoe which is a five minute walk away from it. Out on the water, with my three kids, is my happy place.”
In the past you said you would typically have 12-15 meetings a day – is this still the case and if so how do you manage it?
“It is! I’m not sure how unusual that is, but these days I’m a big fan of 15-minute meetings. I find that with a little discipline, you can accomplish 90% of what you would in 30 minutes. My biggest pet peeve is when people schedule hour-long discussions when much less time is required to make a decision.”

How important is AI in your job and how do we resolve the data issues around it?
“Historically, most of the challenges clients asked my team to solve were actually organizational and process issues, not really mathematical problems. So mostly I would hire for effective written analysis, translation, and presentation skills. In the last two years, that’s shifting. NLP and (to a lesser extent) affective biometrics are on the cusp of reshaping the way we go about answering client questions around user journeys, product opportunities, and digital experiences. In this way, AI is reducing the subjectivity of our craft, and enabling us to dramatically accelerate certain stages of our strategic process.”

If you could have the answer to one question what would it be?
“Oh, goodness. I’d go for something simple, like - what’s a low-cost and scalable carbon capture and storage solution which could be globally deployed by 2030?”


Michael Horn is taking part in a Keynote Panel at the IBM CDO Summit, Fall 2018 in Boston, November 14-15.. The sessions is entitled 'Guardians of the Data Galaxy – Protecting Privacy, Securing Data, & Building Trust'.

If you would like to join Michael and 120+ other C-suite Data & Analytics leaders at the complimentary event, please submit an application today.

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