Predictably, Michael O'Connell is obsessed with data. As chief data scientist at TIBCO Software, he leads a team that helps to develop analytic solutions across a number of industries -- including financial services, energy, life sciences, consumer goods, retail and plenty more. 

Here's a look back on where O'Connell's data obsession started. And a look ahead at the key trends he's tracking while helping to shape TIBCO's software platforms.

Looking Back

O'Connell's professional journey started in the early 1980s, when he earned a Master's degree in statistics from the University of NSW, Australia. Then came a PhD in statistics from North Carolina State University (1987-1992) -- where SAS got its start more than a decade earlier.

"It’s been a long journey, absolutely," O'Connell quips in an interview with Information Management. "It's easy to look back on the days of submitting jobs to a mainframe to run statistical models." Then came the workstation era, along with all that pioneering statistical work at NC State.

Today and the Future

Fast forward to the present, and O'Connell sees the next big shift -- from machines and queries to users empowered with the right tools. "It's all about the human element," he says. "We're putting a lot of power in the hands of business users. And you have to maintain the fundamentals of well thought out statistics and software." He credits Benjamin Shneiderman, a University of Maryland Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer Science, for helping to define that market shift.

The shift, O'Connell says, includes more deeply integrated software packages. A case in point involves TIBCO's Enterprise Runtime for R -- a statistical platform that's embedded in the Spotfire platform for predictive analytics. "Our mission is to provide all the bits that they need to get their job done. Having our own R engine right there is so convenient for our customers. There's no need to make calls out to an external R system. And within a few clicks you can create maps and forecasts."

More developments are coming. O'Connell and his team spend considerable time in the field -- gathering customer feedback to help TIBCO's developers further shape the platform.  "Sitting in the middle of all that is such a fun job," he said. "All these new data sources – Hadoop and others; they are pretty gnarly for a regular user to approach. It’s our job to provide the point-and-click ease of use back to the customer."

O'Connell's team members come from various backgrounds -- geophysicists; consumer retail and consumer analytics professionals; university experts; financial analysis experts; energy pros and spatial gurus. "It's really about data scientists, computer scientists and the business side of the house working together to create value."

Continued Market Evolution

Among the additional trends he's watching for 2015 and beyond:

1. More Real-Time Use Cases. He expects to see more monitoring equipment in production facilities, as well as new needs to monitor customer traffic on websites. Using predictive analytics, he expects manufacturers to avoid yield problems before they occur -- gaining millions of dollars in value per day. Somewhat similarly, customers will use analytics to keep field equipment pumping oil or medical equipment running in a hospital. "The real-time use case is a big one across multiple markets."

2. Rise of the Recommendation Engine: "It will be an industry trend. When you merge data into [TIBCO] Spotfire and click 'Recommendation', it will suggest different displays. That helps novice users and even experts get an advanced start on recommendations."

3. Mapping:  From logistics to transportation traffic patterns -- the "big demand for location analytics" will continue to grow. 

4. Increasing Data Complexity: Here, he points to a mix of unstructured and structured data -- and the rise of fast-growth platforms like NoSQL. "Accessing and loading data from different sources is a challenge in and of itself," he notes.

But TIBCO, he concludes, is positioned to help customers address those challenges and opportunities. 

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