Voice: Paul Ballew

Paul Ballew

Paul Ballew, Global Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Ford Motor Company

Paul Ballew talks about the power of data analytics and what it will mean for customers in an increasingly connected world.

I am truly honored to be the first data and analytics officer in the history of Ford, although data analysis certainly isn’t new to this company. Back in the 1940s, Henry Ford II famously hired the Whiz Kids, a group of 10 World War II veterans who brought the science of statistics and analytics to Ford Motor Company. In today’s world, the Whiz Kids would have the time of their lives with the ability to analyze almost unimaginable amounts of data to understand customer behavior and improve fuel economy, reduce traffic congestion or develop new features to boost safety.

Most people think of big data as something new, but it’s a culmination of things that have evolved over half a century, beginning in the post-war era when investments to systematically capture data started to accelerate. Over the last five to 10 years, new technologies and an explosion of information have converged to an inflection point centered on the ability to leverage data and analytics to anticipate the needs of customers and serve them better than ever.

This historic inflection point means that mobility and connectivity – two of the world’s most significant transformations – are converging. Prior to the automobile, people spent most of their lives within a 40-mile radius. Then, 100 years ago, Henry Ford put the world on wheels so people could move from one place to the next. More recently, the world has changed yet again to become digitally linked. The power of data analytics will help us deliver mobility and connectivity solutions so seamless they could almost be considered magical.

Technology has opened up the proverbial tap on data. Today, 4 billion people around the world have access to a smart device. In the not-too-distant-future, when we have millions of Ford vehicles on the road that are connected to the Internet, customers can choose to share with us an incredible amount of insight that we can use to design better products and services to meet their needs. Ford is very quickly becoming not just an automobile company but an information company. And, with this information, we can help transform the lives of our customers.

However, as with any transformational moment in human history, there are accompanying societal issues. We take the issues of privacy and security very seriously. We are trusted stewards of customer data. We are respectful of, and humbled by, that trust. We will continue to respect customer privacy, to be transparent, to provide choice, where appropriate, and to secure data. In that way, customers know how data will be used and choose to share it with us so we can provide even more superior experiences.

Consistent with this commitment, Ford has established a company-wide data governance infrastructure that will drive a more holistic approach to the stewardship of data, including issues such as data privacy and security. We’re being innovative in a technological landscape that is constantly shifting.

Data collection is so ubiquitous now that most of us don’t give it much thought. When we shop online, we don’t consider the advanced algorithms that make suggestions for our next purchases based on prior buying habits, help manufacturers develop and improve products with the features customers want most, or assist retailers in maintaining product inventories. Most people hear the term “big data” but don’t really comprehend what it means. It’s incumbent upon us to explain why we’re going down this path for the benefit of the customer.

From a business standpoint, today’s technologies allow us to take the science of data and analytics and combine it with the art of business to anticipate customer needs. Data allows us to know our customers and act on that knowledge in meaningful ways, thereby creating a more customer-centric business model. Historically, very few companies – aside from, say, the corner butcher – have been truly customer-centric. How can you be customer-centric if you don’t know your customers? It’s a false assertion. With data analytics, we can better understand patterns and trends of customers, enabling us to put them first in game-changing ways.

We want Ford to harness the potential of big data in a way that will make a true difference in the lives of our customers. It’s a once-in-a-century opportunity, and we want to be sure we’re making the right investments and focusing on the right priorities.”