Acxiom Aims for 'Big Data'

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 12:00 am  

Recently, Acxiom Corp. announced its plans to drive $30 million into company investments. Most of that will go into research and development, which Acxiom President and CEO Scott Howe said could mean upwards of 300 to 400 jobs. So what are all those new folks going to do?

Howe told Arkansas Business that Acxiom was surging forward into that goldmine of personal data, digital media. The $30 million investment will help the company break into that sector and others, Howe said.

"When we think about what clients are telling us they're trying to do, a lot of tactics they're trying to deploy are in emerging media types," he said, "email, banner advertising, search engines, social media, you name it. How we incorporate that data, yet adhere to strict privacy controls, is something to think hard about. We don't want to get in over our skis."

The funding is also intended to enhance Acxiom's existing product line.

"What we've always done is manage customers' databases," Howe said. "That hasn't changed at all. What's changed are elements that go into the customer database, and the methods for mining and distilling that information, then empowering folks around our clients to use that information."

Data Refinery

Howe said the development plan was threefold.

First, he wants to tap into "big data," referring to the explosion of online information that increases every day.

"We see the world's data," he said. "But the nature of the data is changing. If 10 years ago the majority of data was a name, address and telephone number, today there's additional data elements: people's Web-surfing preferences, their search histories."

Then, Howe wants to marry that observable online information with other data sets.

"Once you get that additional data in, there's a lot more need for mining and manipulation of data."

That part of the business involves predictive algorithms and other crunchy calculations - good stuff for those new developers.

Finally, once that data's all mined, it has to be extracted.

"If it just sits in the database, it does nothing," Howe said. "That's not useful."

All of this ties into Howe's image of Acxiom as a "data refinery." He sees data as a consumable resource that Acxiom mines, distills, refines and then sends through pipelines to hungry clients.

The nature of data is to keep changing, which Howe noted was a characteristic he wanted in the new hires.

"Increasingly, we need folks who understand how an ad server works, who understand how Facebook works, who understand how search algorithms work," he said. "Increasingly, the data we manage will be a fuel for all those other, different media providers."

This doesn't seem to mean that Acxiom is deserting its original, direct-mail areas. Howe said the new areas would complement the old.

"It's the concept of sequence storytelling," Howe said. "Marketing is storytelling. So by applying the data across all touch points, marketers become storytellers, as opposed to street corner peddlers saying, 'Buy now!'"

The challenge for Acxiom, Howe said, is going to be keeping up with the breakneck speed of the "big data" world.

"I'd liken it to driving on the freeway," he said. "When you're a kid, the first time you take the entrance ramp onto the freeway, it scares you to death. Everyone else is going so fast, how can we possibly maintain control? Yet, after you've had your license for a while, it feels like you're crawling half the time on the freeway. You get used to that speed. As an organization, our next big challenge is going to be how can we increase our speed, yet keep our wheels on the road?"



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