Business conference puts SUNY Fredonia on map

Business conference puts SUNY Fredonia on map

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, County Executive PJ Wendel and Dr. Gustav Misra flank IBAC Dinner Keynote Speaker, Linda Powell.

Ask a random person on the street if they can explain the purpose of business analytics, and you can expect a blank stare in return. Yet, that person’s actions are likely being analyzed at every turn. They are just not aware this is happening.

We provide data to businesses in countless ways. For instance, if we use a business loyalty card to access sales, the store tracks everything we buy and uses that information to analyze our spending patterns. It helps them decide what and how much to stock. When people search for something on Google or click on a Facebook reel, they’re more likely to see more ads about those topics. When we go to a big amusement park, and a plastic armband is wrapped around our wrist so we can access rides and entertainment, it is likely to collect data on every choice we make while there. The same is true when we enter and exit the Thruway. These are just a few examples of how our movements and actions are tracked and analyzed.

Businesses collect and analyze this data to identify things they need to improve. It helps them identify trends, patterns, and correlations. They use it to make better decisions and to improve their businesses’ performance. This is called business analytics.

Businesses have been analyzing their customers ever since the first businesses were established. For example, the first farmers had to decide what to plant and how much. They based those decisions on which crops grew well, how much they used, sold, or traded, and to whom during previous years.

Today, technological capabilities are advancing so fast that it is causing fear and increasing calls for caution with data. With every passing day, collecting and analyzing ever larger volumes of data about people is dramatically easier and faster. That raises a lot of questions and creates ethical dilemmas.

Fortunately, businesses and data scientists from all over the world came together to share their strategies and discuss their concerns at the inaugural International Business Analytics Conference for Academic and Industry Professionals on May 3 and 4 at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Attendees heard about the latest research, learned from world-famous experts, benefitted from the experience of high-caliber business professionals, and left with fresh inspiration and new connections.

People came from all over, from Toronto to Miami and Texas to Missouri, to share and to learn. Attendees chose from 45 specialized sessions on topics ranging from fraud detection to machine learning to stock market prediction to sports analytics to wine quality to predicting regional economic changes and so much more. Highlights interspersed between sessions included panel discussions, roundtables, fireside chats, and other presentations. The IBAC team did an outstanding job putting this conference together and making sure it ran smoothly. It was an exceptional event.

Among the featured keynote speakers was Karl Holz, a 22-year veteran leader at Disney, where he served as senior vice president at Walt Disney World Operations, was the President, Chairman, and CEO of Disneyland Resort in Paris, and was in charge of Disney Cruise Line. He also graduated from SUNY Fredonia. Holz stated the intent of data analysis at Disney is to continuously improve their customers’ experience so that they will return and also recommend Disney to others. He stressed that all data collection should tell a story but cautioned that some data just gives indications, which is why both quantitative and qualitative data are needed. He also pointed out it’s not enough to simply track people’s movements and actions; businesses need to talk to people in forums and one-on-one to get an accurate picture. Holz also discussed his good times as a SUNY Fredonia student, noting he had such a good time that his GPA during his first three semesters was 2.2. He used that fact to explain that anyone has the potential to succeed in business once they put their mind to it.

Microsoft Technology Strategist Chris Seferlis talked about how data shows that MS350 is not being used as much as Microsoft thought it would be and how it is helping Microsoft figure out why that is. He noted that history proves that with every innovation, doomsayers and ignorance made headlines, but ultimately, economies grew, and more jobs were created, not less. He explained this is why we all should expect we will likely change careers to evolve as technology evolves. Those complaining about cashier jobs going away due to self-checkout need to look back and ask how many people they know are working as telephone operators, corset makers, and covered wagon builders today. Times change, and jobs change with the times. He suggested there is no reason to fear the 4th Industrial Revolution as we become more interconnected with machines every day. As recently as 25 years ago, who would have thought we would all carry a computer, calculator, and telephone in our pockets, all combined in one tiny device? Think about how quickly that became second nature to most of us. People need to learn the right skills for the time. Advanced robotics, combined with AI, are automating many menial tasks. That will free us up to do more exciting work. It is already leading to more rapid advances in fields like biotechnology, perhaps helping us live longer, healthier lives and likely helping us resolve some of our climate and environmental issues.

Business leaders from Fastenal Industrial Supplies Co. talked about their web-based analytics system that uses an inventory and purchasing dashboard to help their customers be more efficient. They showed how their Fast Vend vending machine for manufacturing tools saved companies time and money.

The dynamic Dr. Ernest Fokove discussed the seven wheels of statistical machine learning, a subset of AI, where computers learn from data and improve over time. It has led to many technological advancements we use today, like voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, and those we can expect in the future, like self-driving cars. He hopes AI helps us understand humanity better and embrace the importance of working together.

Linda F. Powell, Enterprise Head of Data Governance and Deputy Chief Data Officer at Bank of NY Melon, talked about data standards, strategy, and Metadata. She explained data hallucinations, which are incorrect or misleading results that AI models can generate, stressing ethics, respecting intellectual property rights, and learning the difference between what people can and should do with data. As Albert Einstein noted, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” It’s essential to know the difference.

Many experts explained that Artificial Intelligence’s role is to collect data, organize it, recognize patterns, solve problems, and help people make decisions. At the same time, concerns were raised about the many sources of data, including places like TikTok, Facebook, and wristbands, and the future of AI. They noted that ChatGPT makes up a lot of stuff, which can result in false data and fake news.

However, it makes no sense to pretend AI isn’t real or is going to go away. If the USA does not embrace it, we risk other countries surpassing our capabilities. That’s because many outside the USA are and will continue pursuing new AI uses. Consequently, as the use of AI expands, issues like privacy rights, ethics, and intelligence classification must be considered and governmental regulations are needed to protect all of us.

The Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation was one of many conference sponsors. That’s because the NCCF’s Local Economic Development Committee recognizes the importance of bringing world-class knowledge and professionals to our small corner of the planet. Events like this cement our place at the forefront of progress.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at

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