CXO

Lisa Prosser: Data Whisperer. Master's student. Reader.

Fitch Rating's Lisa Prosser tells TechRepublic about using data in the enterprise and getting into the data mindset.

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Image: Lisa Prosser

When Lisa Prosser rides the subway in New York, there's one thing that consistently drives her crazy: People using the emergency exits.

It's not for the reasons you might think. Yes, the alarm is loud, about 86 decibels. Yes, it creates something of a boy-who-cried-wolf situation. But the main reason it bugs Prosser is that when people go through the emergency exits and not the turnstiles, the MTA can't get an solid count of how many people are leaving.

"You can only track that if the turnstile turns, so they don't have accurate data on where people enter and exit the system, which means they're not able to fully make it the most efficient system possible," she said.

It's a data problem. And for Prosser, one that's hard to ignore — even on an innocuous morning commute — because she's given in to the "data mindset."

"Your brain changes into this weird thing about trying to collect data all the time," she said.

Prosser is currently the director of global strategy and business intelligence at Fitch Group in New York City. She's also in the middle of a master's degree in business analytics from New York University, and is witnessing the ways that data is seeping into all aspects of the enterprise.

Originally from Calgary in Alberta, Canada, Prosser majored in philosophy at the University of Lethbridge.

"As you can probably imagine, the jobs don't come to find you with a philosophy undergraduate degree," she said.

After graduation, she went to work in software sales at a company called Replicon, which makes software for time tracking. After a few years, she decided to move to New York City.

Prosser landed at Panther Express, founded by Kevin Ryan and Dwight Merriman, who also founded MongoDB and Double Click. She got a lot of exposure to areas of business she was unfamiliar with, and when the company was sold, she eventually followed the interim CEO over to Bloomberg.

It was at a time when Bloomberg was starting a new enterprise department and changing the way it used data.

"It was a big shift in the way people thought, in the way salespeople had to be trained, the way that we needed to collect and gather data for reporting, everything across the whole lifecycle had to be rethought," she said.

While she was there, Prosser was the lead project manager on the acquisition of a company based in Ireland. It made her look at the company on a level she'd never considered before — it involved everything from figuring out how to roll them into Bloomberg's corporate culture, to how to transition them to Bloomberg's health benefits.

Looking back, she can see even more how data could have influenced some of those types of decisions — take the healthcare issue, for example. Data points about age range, family size, structure, backgrounds, and experience can all play a part.

After five years at Bloomberg, she took a job at Fitch Ratings, which is a statistical rating organization.

"We have a lot of different data internally, and it sits in a lot of disparate places and doesn't really talk well to each other. There wasn't anybody who had this keen eye on taking that data and making it actionable," she said.

The team looks at everything from the efficiency of e-marketing campaigns, to specific sales strategies around the development or launch of a product — or anything else someone outside the team might need analysis on.

This big push toward data is one of the reasons Prosser opted for a master's in businesses analytics instead of an MBA.

As more and more businesses turn to their data for guidance, they find themselves in need to people who can not only pull out those insights, but communicate them to others within the company.

Like others who work with data in-depth, Prosser spends a lot of her time doing what the New York Times called janitorial work — making large data sets workable, or merging it in order to get to the point where the data can be analyzed. Her training has given her the ability to be more technical, by getting into coding, but something that remains true, she said, is the need to work with domain experts in the company.

In other words, if her team is putting together a list of potential clients for the sales team, they could spends hours honing the list based on different attributes, but someone in sales could easily recognize a small detail, like the location of a company, that could negate their place on that list.

Yet, as much as data use in the enterprise gets bandied around, not everyone's on board.

For Prosser's master's capstone, she's been working with publicly available data about the NBA. Her cohort has worked with teams like the San Antonio Spurs, who have an in-house analytics team. Other teams, not so much.

"It's a real cultural shift and the executives have to exist in this mind space that it makes sense, and they want to try some things and explore and experiment a little bit," she said.

Mindset is an important thing — it's taken her back to that philosophy degree, which has actually come in handy.

Critical thinking, if/then statements, or even (or maybe especially) a linguistic logic course end up as parallel thought processes to those she's learned in business analytics.

"I find the whole process and the logic, and the creative, critical thinking that you have to do in philosophy to be exactly the same as the type of thinking I have to do when I'm doing any kind of coding or data analytics," she said.

Then, there's the fact she'll never ride the subway the same way again.

In her own words...

How do you unplug?

"I have two small dogs, so I think they are always my default unplug. They force me to go for a walk and get some air. I have a long haired chihuahua who is 15 years old and a miniature dachshund who's nine."

If you could try another profession, what would it be?

"I've always wanted to be an interior designer. I always thought that would be really interesting. I like the creative aspect of it and the creating something. Taking something that's horrible-looking and turning it into something beautiful... My friends tease me because I'm always moving my furniture around or putting up new drapes, or always changing my home. I approach my apartment and how I style it like an outfit. I don't want to wear the same outfit everyday, and I don't want my apartment to look the same for the rest of my life, so I'm always changing and tweaking depending on mood, and the season and whatever else."

What do you read?

"Typically, I like to read non-fiction, so I don't watch movies and I don't really read a lot of fiction. I just finished reading Dataclysms. It was written by one of the co-founders of Ok Cupid. It's an analytics book, but it's a super light analytics book. He doesn't really dive into the technical details too much, but it's really fascinating look into human nature from this point where you think no one is looking. Now I'm reading this other book called Bold that's about how new technologies change the world."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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