Contemporary Analysis: Chamber Small Business of the Month 11/17 11/21/17 5:18:37 PM
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CAN’s philosophy: “We know it only takes three simple ingredients to do data science: Computers • Coffee • Calculations.” Clearly, they could add a sense of humor (“Comedy?”) to the list.
Big Anniversary and Ambitious Plans Ahead
For Chamber Small Business of the Month
By Dan McCann
The Daily Record
Nathan Watson, president and co-owner of Contemporary Analysis, is a data science enthusiast who, right now, has a very clear mission: to teach everyone what “data science” is.
“Predictive analytics and machine learning, often referred to as data science, is a relatively new term to many people in the business world,” he said.
Simply put, data science is using mathematics and data engineering to explore the patterns in an organization’s data to predict what will likely happen next, allowing them to make better, faster decisions.
“Data Science is now being used to predict everything from customer lifetime value to churn – to when a batch process will fail inside of a manufacturing plant,” Watson said. “Five years from now, data science will be a minimum functionality. You will have to have data science to compete as a company of any size and in any industry.”
The Greater Omaha Chamber’s Small Business of the Month for October – its 10th anniversary coming up in January – CAN has built data science for some of the largest, most forward-thinking corporations in the Midwest. It begins the process of serving its clients by initially – and temporarily – serving as their data science team.
“Monday morning, we show up and provide our client with an established data science team that knows exactly what they’re doing, knows how to dig into their data and knows how to cut through the red tape,” Watson said. “Data science as a service – that’s what we do and it works beautifully.
In addition to implementing data science, CAN helps companies create their own fully functional, internal data science teams.
“From ‘second one,’ there is a timer running where we say, at the end of the period, we will give our clients everything they need to have their own data science capabilities – all the data, all the knowledge. There is no black box; nothing is secret. We will even hire, train and place their internal team to run everything.”
To formalize that training process, CAN teamed up with Interface Web School in 2016 to create the Omaha Data Science Academy, the ultimate goal of which is to train a data scientist for every company in Omaha.
“CAN does three things well: data science as a service, training and staff augmentation,” Watson said.
He draws a comparison between companies trying to figure out how to manage and implement data science teams – to companies trying to figure out how to embrace the Internet back in the 1990’s.
“A lot of companies didn’t believe the Internet was going to be a ‘thing.’ They thought it was a fad,” Watson said. “Companies that were smart and forward-thinking put themselves on the Internet because they sensed it was important. They weren’t exactly sure why, but they knew that if they didn’t invest in the Internet, someone else would. That’s where we are with data science. We have a lot of companies that aren’t 100 percent sure why they’re doing data science – and that’s okay – but they know they better start now because if they don’t, a competitor is going to figure it out and they’ll be running quicker, better, faster, and cheaper.”
TS Bank, one of area’s fastest growing banks, reached out to CAN in late 2015.
“They said we need to be better at predicting what is likely to happen in our portfolio, in marketing and sales, really in every function of our business,” Watson said.
CAN started as TS Bank’s data science team. Twenty-four months later, the financial institution has its own team consisting of two data scientists, a data strategist, a business intelligence analyst and a database engineer.
“They probably have a better data science team than a bank five times their size, and they are just getting started. They can make decisions faster and cheaper than their peers. They know when to buy. They know when to sell. They have better risk analysis. Their business intelligence (BI) team, now coupled with their predictive analytics team, is the poster child for how to start, grow, and scale data science in an organization. We are excited to have been the catalyst for that,” Watson said.
To best serve its clients, CAN embraces a productivity-focused philosophy called “less wrong” (which says you should always strive to be better but at some point, you have to start making decisions and doing work) and a culture nicknamed “White Boards and Black Coffee.”
“It means we believe in quality (only good coffee), creative binge working (weird hours are encouraged) and having brainstorming sessions anywhere we can get a white board,” Watson said. “This culture allows us to hire amazing individuals who need time and space to think, dream and research. We hire for tenacity above all, giving us individuals who view problems as only a speed bump and not a stop sign.”
Watson said he constantly sits in awe of his team: “I love coming to work every day. … I get to hire the smartest people on the planet and they have the coolest ideas.”
The CAN team currently shares downtown building space with The Startup Collaborative (TSC), a program of the Greater Omaha Chamber that was launched to improve the odds of startup success in Omaha.
“We love the collaborative space,” Watson said. “While we aren’t a startup, we wanted to help the startup community by providing wisdom and a sounding board. I truly believe this openness helps our burgeoning startup community gain much needed traction. CAN also benefits by being close to smart, energetic and creative people, so it’s a great situation for us.”
Watson said it is especially gratifying to be recognized by the Chamber, the driving force behind TSC, as its latest Small Business of the Month.
“There are few organizations in this town that have the heft of the Chamber. (President & CEO) David Brown has upped the game over the last couple of years. We are, for all intents and purposes, a small ‘big city’ – and we’re starting to think like a big city. The Chamber has really been a part of that. For that organization to say, ‘You deserve an award,’ it’s pretty humbling,” Watson said. “We kind of toil away in a niche that doesn’t get a lot of fanfare. So, we appreciate the honor.”
As CAN prepares to celebrate a milestone anniversary next year, it is focused on an ambitious future.
“One of our goals is to work with our clients to come up with solutions that can be turned into companies or products on their own,” Watson said. “We want to help Omaha companies grow and help create new businesses in Omaha that really are changing the world.”
United Republic Bank sponsors the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month award. To nominate a small business online, visit www.omahachamber.org. Nominees must be current Chamber members with 50 employees or less.