Big Data & Analytics Heroes

Michael Cavaretta

Technical Leader of Predictive Analytics, Ford Motor Co.

Big Data & Analytics Heroes is a recognition program created by IBM to acknowledge and highlight big data and analytics industry thought leaders. This week, our Hero is Michael Cavaretta, technical leader of predictive analytics for Ford Motor Co.

How have big data and analytics impacted how you do your job today?

Analytics has been my focus since graduating almost 20 years ago. When I was hired by Ford into the Research Laboratories, my goal was to grow a new group focused on “data mining.” Like the term “big data,” this represented a new way of thinking as well as a new method for finding value in large data sources. Also, like “big data,” it came with a lot of hype. In the intervening years, computers have gotten faster, storage has become cheaper and we have a better idea of how to use analytics to derive business value.

How are big data and analytics changing your business strategy?

Back in 2006, when Alan Mulally first started at Ford, he brought a new type of data-driven decision making, summed up as: “The Data Will Set You Free.” This has become the primary principle for running the business at Ford. All decisions need to have data behind them. As big data technologies drive down the cost of storing and manipulating data, we are pushing analytics down from strategic to tactical and operational decisions, as well as out to all areas of the company and across the world.

We are very confident in this strategy and have some external validation as we were honored with the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) Prize in 2013. In winning the prize, ”INFORMS brings awareness to the outstanding, system-wide use of analytics and operations research (O.R.) in every facet of the company.”

How can big data combined with analytics improve the world we live in in 5–10 years?

I am a big believer in the analytics opportunities from data generated by low-cost sensors and smart devices. While many people are focused on the new opportunities for marketing and customer analytics, I’m enthusiastic about how these technologies can improve internal business operations. At Ford, for example, these technologies may revolutionize manufacturing, as parts can be traced through the supply chain, eventually allowing us to monitor the manufacturing process itself and create an “intelligent assembly plant.” 

Outside of the business world, I believe that there are great opportunities in other industries for big data and analytics. One example is in the area of medicine. There has been some great work predicting health complications for premature babies. In 10 years, it will be routine to place dozens of inexpensive sensors unobtrusively on at-risk patients to monitor their conditions in real-time while they live their normal lives. The data will be sent to the cloud and big data analytics will look for patterns that predict heart attacks, strokes or other serious conditions.

As with all data-gathering initiatives, privacy and security are important considerations, but I have confidence that the value of these technologies will push society in the right direction.

View all of our Big Data & Analytics Heroes here on the Hub, and look out for next week's Hero: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford and co-author of "Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think."