When you want to facilitate networking between your data scientists and customers who have similar interests, these tips will help get the ball rolling.
One of the most exciting ways to use big data analytics in your corporate strategy is to target other data scientists (e.g., Cloudera). I call this using big data as a core strategy as opposed to a supporting strategy, wherein analytic strategies are incorporated into traditional products and services that target a non-analytic market (e.g., Progressive).
A core strategy is exciting for your data science team because they get to build products and services for people just like them -- other data scientists. This is a very sound idea that I fervently advocate.
Like attracts like
People have a natural affinity for others like them, and data scientists are no exception.
Although data science is a multi-disciplinary skill that has its tentacles in a wide range of areas, it's the narrow intersection that defines the field. As such, the population of true data science enthusiasts is quite small, which makes their social bonds very tight.
Two data scientists meeting for the first time can carry on a conversation for hours on subjects the vast majority of the population won't understand, much less care about. So when the people creating your offering (your in-house team) also have the same passion and knowledge as the people consuming your offering (your customers), you have an amazing opportunity to accelerate customer loyalty.
Be intentional about setting up these meetings
These relationships are going to form no matter what, so it's best to be intentional about how these meetings happen. Like any other group of professionals, there are several associations available for data scientists, and with the recent explosion of corporate interest in data scientists, it seems like a new one pops up every other day. Add to this trade shows, online forums, and other community events, and you have a great potential for your staff to at least casually bump into your customers, if not meet with them on a regular basis.
Wouldn't you want to control these interactions instead of leaving these relationships to organically grow on their own? It makes sense to me.
Suggestions to point you in the right direction
There are several possibilities for controlling the interactions between your data scientists and your customers, and the one you choose depends on your resources and the value you place on strategic loyalty. I'm an advocate of infusing loyalty into your strategy, so I'll always recommend that you show no reticence in pouring funds in this direction. That said, this approach isn't for everyone, and I respect that.
For those who would rather reserve the bulk of their strategic stockpile for other pursuits, I recommend at least a moderate investment in bringing your staff and your customers together with regularly sponsored events. It doesn't take much to sponsor a regular (and fun) event where your data scientists can network with existing and potential customers. It's also a great opportunity for you to strengthen your brand within a very vertical market.
Don't let the informal structure of sponsored events detract you from coaching your data scientists on the necessary do's and don'ts. It's good to talk freely with other professionals; however, there's a line of confidentiality that must be maintained. It's important that you explain this to your data scientists, as you probably won't be asking your guests to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they start eating their salad.
Strategic, legal partnerships
On the other end of the spectrum is a strategic, legal partnership; this makes sense if you have a very short list of high-value customers and/or you face fierce competition in the marketplace. Bringing your customers on as partners binds their allegiance and widens the communication channels without worrying of a confidentiality breach.
You must be willing to commit a serious amount of time and resources to make this work. It defeats the purpose of structuring formal arrangements like this only to have one annual get-together each year where very little information is exchanged.
Another idea is special projects, which is somewhere between sponsored events and legal partnerships. Similar to a consulting arrangement, a special project has a beginning and an end and serves a specific objective. The idea is to put your data scientists and customers together as a team to accomplish a goal. The project sponsor could be you, your customer, or a third party. Confidentiality agreements are in place to promote an open exchange of ideas, but the relationship isn't evergreen like a legal partnership. In this way, you can network and brand with a larger audience without the anxiety of trade secrets leaving your fortress.
I've given you three ideas for putting your data science staff and your customers together, and there are many more worth exploring. Take some time today to figure out which idea makes the most sense for your organization, and put a plan in place to make it happen.
Birds of a feather flock together; it's your job to manage their migration path.