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“Big data” in Kansas City

Q&A with TeraCrunch’s Kelly Lieberman

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Above image credit: Kelly Lieberman, sales director at TeraCrunch. Photo by Bridgit Bowden.

“Big data” is a term that you hear a lot these days. Industries as wide-ranging as healthcare, fashion and television are all analyzing and using data.

TeraCrunch is a Kansas City company that uses data science to provide insights and recommend actions to different businesses.

Kelly Lieberman is the company’s sales director. She spoke with entrepreneurship reporter Bridgit Bowden about the company and the “big data” industry. Her responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

What is “big data?”

Big data is all the information that a company has historically on file. And it could be consumer information, purchase information or manufacturing information. It could be sales data for each salesperson; it could be data on their clients. I mean, it can go on and on. And, it can get really technical. And then on top of it, because we’re so social now, and we’re so driven by devices, we have emails and blogs and social media like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

What does TeraCrunch do?

There’s all kinds of data that’s available, and what we do is we take all of these sources of data and put it through our TeraCrunch platform, and we analyze the data. And then you have to marry it with other data from the company, and our output would be certain types of insights.

This opens up an enormous opportunity for companies because human beings cannot see terabytes of data — it goes too fast for them. So, our data scientists write algorithms to catch these things. And then they have the background to see patterns and correlations that most people would never see. So, it’s really exciting.

Most companies aren’t doing it correctly, they’re not putting their own analytics to use. They’re not gleaning the insights and then they’re not turning the insights into actionable solutions. And I think that’s we’re such an interesting team, because we’re good at that.

How does the TeraCrunch data analysis program work?

All of the data comes into our TeraCrunch engine. It could be feeds from the company; it could be feeds from social media, even emails. And then we use our predictive statistical models and algorithms. 20 percent of the process is tweaked to be specific, very specific to each company because every company is different. So, it’s not like a boxed product; it’s customized. If you just have a one-size-fits-all platform, which is what a lot of companies do, that won’t work for like, a sports team and for a hospital. They’re totally different entities with totally different problems and totally different language, so you’ve got to create the language first.

What kinds of companies does TeraCrunch work with?

We’re open to anything. There’s huge potential in the legal industry. And you could do this with real estate. We work with consumer goods companies, a lot of advertising agencies working specifically for their customers, tax, financial, pharmaceutical companies, government stuff — we’re just there to glean the insights.

What are some examples of how companies can use data?

Let’s say Dole (the large multinational fruit and vegetable company) was one of our clients. We could look at incidents of food poisoning on Twitter or on Facebook and the data that Dole would give us. And, if we started to see an occurrence of sickness and eating bagged salad, we might actually be able to pinpoint on a map where there’s an occurrence and send an alert to Dole that it might be E.coli or something. And then we take a deeper look and we can discover a food borne illness before it hits the news or even before it hits the hospitals. They don’t start to make those correlations as quickly as we might be able to.

How can big data be used in the healthcare industry?

We had data from a big insurance company, and they said ‘take a look at these 30 hospitals and see if we can reduce the readmissions and see if we can reduce time of stay.’ So, we took all of this patient data and all of these different types of surgical treatments and structured all of the data and came out with these insights. The one that stood out the most was that in one hospital, patients for one particular treatment were getting home much much earlier than the patients in other hospitals. I can’t say exact details so, let’s just say that it was the amount of anesthesia used. And let’s say now that you know that you’re more careful about the amount of anesthesia used in the last parts of these very long surgeries. But, if you back off on the anesthesia, they wake up sooner, and they get up sooner, and they have a remarkably quicker recovery time. So, it’s stuff like that.

Who are the people working at TeraCrunch?

Our CEO prides himself on hiring people that are outside the box. So some of our data scientists have worked in healthcare, some of us have worked in manufacturing and counterterrorism and entrepreneurship. It just gives us a wide diversity of thoughts when we’re working on products.

A screenshot from TeraCrunch's website.

A screenshot from TeraCrunch’s website.

TeraCrunch is a local company. Why Kansas City?

We’ve got huge companies here. We’ve got Hallmark, H&R Block, DST, Cerner. There’s enough business here for a long time. We’re hyperlocal though, we think ‘Kansas City’s our home. Let’s make it the most revolutionary, high-tech place.’ And you can see it with things like the Kauffman Center and all the entrepreneur programs that are available. It’s just an exciting, growing, neat place to live.

I was picturing a huge office full of giant servers to store and process all of this data. But, you usually work out of clients’ spaces. How?

Right now, if somebody needs us, we go to their office to see what they’ve got. Now with the cloud, everything’s virtual. So, you don’t need to have like a big data warehouse. And, big companies want us on their premises. So, we just put our platform on top of their premises. And some people are ok with being cloud-based. Most of the companies we’re working with already have all the equipment they need. What they need is the top layer that explains it all, that can take everything they’ve got and merge it.

Should people be worried about the privacy of their personal data?

A lot of people are worried about the privacy. You know, like patient records and that sort of thing. We don’t slow it down to look at anybody’s specific data: it’s just the patterns that are created. And, if it’s like patient records they can and do redact information like names, social security numbers, stuff like that. We’re not interested in the who.

What does the future of the big data industry look like?

I think it’s like the growth of the internet, only more so because data’s doubling constantly. So, knowing that, humans aren’t going to be able to make decisions that quickly. You need to have all of that processed. Everything is sped up, there’s more opportunity for all of us, it’s very positive in how it can help.

Here’s the thing: no matter what, whether you think you need it or not, you have to know what big data is and where it’s going. You have to know that it will be the biggest thing in the world. It will make the difference between your company succeeding or failing, absolutely.

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