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Data scientist Hilary Mason wants to show you the (near) future

Marc Ferranti | March 28, 2016
Hacking the system: Machine intelligence startup Fast Forward Labs takes a unique approach to sparking innovation

To identify new technologies to focus on, "We take notes when we see things that catch our eye, then we scrub that list down," Micallef says. "We look at where things are, where something has reached a tipping point economically or technically, find the points where things have made a leap forward but haven't become a commodity such that they can be bought off a shelf."

Many of Mason's clients are CIOs and other leaders in tech roles, such as CTOs (chief technology officers) and heads of R&D. Mason says she has seen a change in what tech leaders are expected to do for their businesses. "Now, they're being called to actually have a vision for what the business can be capable of through the technology."

New role for tech leaders

There are a variety of developments changing the role of the CIO, Mason notes. A lot of the tech spending in enterprises has moved into lines of business so for example, the marketing department may be buying its technology through third party vendors without going through their own IT department

Tech leaders now have to collaborate with business leaders, and bring in the right technology to support a shared vision. This is especially true in the area of data analysis, where technology is essential for doing good work, Mason notes. It also puts tech executives in a position where they need a strategy, and to be leaders in a way that perhaps they didn't have to in earlier days, Mason says.

While there is a tremendous amount of personalization of technology in the consumer arena, the same is not so true for the business world, especially for data technology. "You can go build yourself a Hadoop cluster but whether you build that virtually or on physical hardware, how many nodes you need, what kind of queue management you have and what kind of analytics you're expected to do is not obvious and it's not something you can just buy," Mason said. "Now, you're using this data technology to support your business priorities and if you're doing it well you're going to be not just supporting them, you're going into actually innovating; and so that's something where strong technology leadership is actually necessary for success."

Fast Forward Labs has tech executives from a variety of industries among its client base, including insurance, banking, publishing, media, and startups. But whether the client is an established enterprise or a small startup, the company starts the conversation about data by asking a series of defined questions. "Process is very important because otherwise you it ends up being a mess -- you end up duplicating a lot of work," Mason cautions.


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