The best business opportunities can be hard to spot. Significant patterns of customer behavior are buried in mountains of raw data that all look the same. E- businesses produce a staggering amount of potentially useful information. But can people identify useful patterns of behavior from present day reporting and charting products? Visual Insights is paving the way toward enabling more people to make better business decisions by applying patented data visualization technology against the problem.
Visual Insights has deep roots, grounded in the strong research and development efforts of Bell Labs, one of the most famous R&D organizations in the world. Formed in 1925 through the merger and centralization of AT&T and Western Electric's research and development departments, Bell Labs is today the research and development unit of Lucent Technologies. The fruits of the ongoing research at Bell Labs range from synchronized sound accompaniment for motion pictures (1926) to development of the UNIX operating system (1969) to neural networks (1986) to data visualization for mining information from corporate databases (1996).
Visual Insights, based in Naperville, Illinois, provides solutions for a wide range of industries including banking, financial services, catalog and retail enterprises, and government agencies. Visual Insights' eBizInsights, ADVIZOR, ADVIZOR/2000, In3D and SeeIT products, together with a world-class custom visualization design team, provide risk management, business intelligence and decision support solutions for corporations, OEMs and ISVs with e-business performance analysis requirements. The company's mission is to help its customers apply data visualization solutions to enhance decision making, communicate results and understand the real-time interactions and business operation indicators that influence their bottom lines.
"I was recruited by Lucent's New Ventures Group to form Visual Insights a little over two years ago," explains Doug Cogswell, president and CEO of Visual Insights. "The purpose of the Lucent group is to identify products and technologies in Bell Labs that can prosper more in a freestanding realm outside of Lucent's core markets. Visual Insights is an independent company funded by leading venture capital firms and the Intel IA64 investment fund, launched to commercialize Bell Labs research code, turn it into products, and build a marketing and sales mission around its data visualization technology. That's what we have accomplished over the last two years. It has been and promises to continue to be a very exciting venture."
"Our focus is on e-business performance analysis, a potentially enormous market. In December of 1999, just after we received our funding, we acquired Visible Decisions, the Toronto-based developer of visual reporting and real time presentation systems. The two companies are very complementary, and we now have by far the broadest spectrum of visualization solutions for businesses visual discovery-based solutions for analysis, active 3D reports for broad distribution and communication of results, and realTime3D presentation, branding and analysis," explains Cogswell.
"As we apply these technologies to e-business performance analysis solutions, visual discovery and reporting provide a much more intuitive interface to the data, enabling more people to turn that data into actionable decisions and results. These solutions bring the technology to our customers in a way that enables them to do business better acquire customers faster, cross- and up-sell more, and better retain existing customers," continues Cogswell.
Cogswell identifies two major factors as the impetus behind the rapidly growing recognition of the critical need for e-business performance and visualization solutions. "Survival in the twenty-first century requires that companies focus their attention on the Internet and on branding. We're seeing a battle between the dot-coms that are setting up business in this new Internet format and the established players that already have the brand recognition and are struggling to get onto this new platform," states Cogswell.
"Once a company moves into the Internet realm, they need the e- business performance analysis solutions that we provide," explains Cogswell. "We help people understand what is happening in their Web commerce sites, their general Web sites, their branding sites and/or their marketing sites. Our solutions provide interactive ways to view data sets that are too large to grasp without the aid of analysis and visualization technology. In traditional brick-and-mortar organizations, all you know about customers' buying patterns is what item they purchased and from what department. With the Web, all of a customer's information can be captured. For example, when a customer purchases a tie from the menswear department of an Internet commerce site, you know how the customer got to that department. You can determine that the customer came to the tie department from the menswear department, and there from the luggage department and initially entered from a banner ad on Yahoo! Our products are particularly good at dealing with multidimensional, complex data sets which is exactly the type of information available within organizations today."
Doug Cogswell, president and CEO of Visual Insights
Cogswell emphasizes that customer adoption of Visual Insights products is driven by the impact the products can provide on the revenue side of the equation. He states, "Now that organizations have ever-increasing amounts of data, they are under more and more pressure to rapidly do smart things with current customers or when competing for new customers. The ability to understand in real time on the Web what is happening has become increasingly important, and our products provide that picture the picture that is worth much more than a thousand words."
The rapid pace of the Internet economy means that Visual Insights must be able to respond just as rapidly to the changing requirements of its customers. "This presents a challenge for us," states Cogswell. "The biggest part of that challenge is going to be not getting too caught up in what we do as being the only way. If we keep marching down a path and don't pay attention to the signals, we'll lose. This is an area where we have to get in, see something, understand it and then continually adjust to the new realities. The analysis of Internet and customer data is an intensely competitive market that has captured the best and the brightest. We have something that is really unique, we understand the importance of evaluating the market shifts, and we recognize the value of providing solutions not just technology to our customers. Providing value to our customers through our solutions means success for our customers and for the long-term value of Visual Insights," says Cogswell.
The fast-paced world in which Visual Insights is immersed requires a non-traditional corporate approach. "Sometimes we have 45 or 90-day cycles on products. Core technology development cannot be done quickly, but we're now talking about product solutions based on the core technology that was developed at Bell Labs. We have the proven foundation technology, so we're able to provide variations on the packaging of that technology to meet the demands of the e-business marketplace. We listen to the feedback from our customers and iterate based on that input."
"Throughout the course of my career, I have learned a great deal about managing by influence matrix managing by logic, reasoning and structuring ideas versus a direct, hands-on administrative approach. I like to work at the idea level and have a lot of team orientation, so my normal mechanism is to back off and let the team work. Fortunately, we've been able to attract a high- caliber team across the board, and we're able to give people room to grow and be motivated. Our goal is to have diversity of thought. We've got a balance between creative, intuitive types and more methodical, practical types. The goal of this team is making sure there is interplay among the ideas and the people."
At Visual Insights, the interplay is not restricted to product development. Cogswell explains, "One of our biggest challenges was finding appropriate office space. We are doing something that is probably atypical in the Midwest adding ping pong and foosball tables for employee interaction. During our office space search, we discovered that most of the leased space in this area was broken up into offices with doors and didn't have the open space that we need. Putting the ping pong table in a conference room just wouldn't work! We try to do things to liven up the environment and make it fun. In fact, at our fall company meeting, somehow the group ferreted in whipped cream pies, and in the spirit of fun they tossed the pies at the management team. Let me tell you, whipped cream in your hair after about 45 minutes is not a pleasant thing, but the team had a blast!"
"We also work hard to create an environment that is stimulating, rewarding and provides room to grow, but it has to be coordinated and tied together. It's not like a football game where someone is calling the plays. One person can't know enough about this business to call tight plays and expect that somebody's going to be there. It's defensively very different. It's much more like a rugby scrum where there is constant communication and motion in the same direction," comments Cogswell.
As the leader of Visual Insights, Cogswell thrives on competition personal and professional. "A lot of different things motivate people," Cogswell states. "Often the leading motivators are money and power. I am more driven by creativity and building things especially building a winner. You could say I respond well to achievement motivation!"
While Visual Insights fulfills Cogswell's professional competitive drive, his family provides the much-needed rest and relaxation. However, the Cogswell family vacation may not sound like rest and relaxation to most people. Cogswell and his wife have one son who is 17 years old, and two daughters who are 13 and 10. "This summer we did some hiking and camping in Switzerland, and a couple of years ago we visited the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming. We backpacked for five nights and six days at 11,000 feet. Actually it is quite unusual to have a family backpacking up at that altitude, but we had a great time. My son caught trout, and we fried them up for dinner. It was great after the freeze- dried food we had been eating."
"I also enjoy skiing," states Cogswell, "and a recent skiing trip with my son proved to be one of the few times I experienced stress. We were at Lake Tahoe, and six feet of snow fell in about 36 hours. They shut down the ski areas because of avalanches. So we drove to Alpine Meadows, and by the time we got there, they shut down the road because of an avalanche and we were trapped. On the way to North Star the police had imposed roadblocks, and you had to have chains on your car. I went to the store, bought chains, and put them on our rental car. We managed to get to North Star at 1:30 in the afternoon and bought daily lift tickets to go skiing for two hours in a blizzard. Great skiing in untracked, six-foot-deep powder! But, because I didn't put the chains on correctly, they dented the fenders and took the paint off. After paying for the car damage, it turned out to be a very expensive two-hour ski expedition." Fortunately, most of Cogswell's ski trips are much less stressful.
Doug Cogswell is on the Board of Governors of Opportunity International, an Oakbrook, Illinois-based not-for-profit organization that seeks transformation in the lives of economically challenged men and women in developing countries. It provides entrepreneurs with access to capital and business training to start and expand small businesses. Opportunity International enables people to care for their families and gain the dignity that comes from being self-supporting. Communities are strengthened as local economies improve and entrepreneurs join forces to solve societal problems.
This process is called microenterprise development. The movement was founded and is currently run by entrepreneurs and business people to provide lasting solutions to poverty.
"Opportunity International is an important part of my life," explains Cogswell. "Opportunity International does not merely distribute money. Through this organization, people in lesser- developed countries receive a loan and training to empower them to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, eventually capable of employing some of their fellow citizens. Last year the organization created more than 200,000 jobs throughout the world."
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