In the broadest sense, analytics is the study of data. At WEX, analytics shapes all of our products and services. But what does that really mean? We sat down recently with Kurt Thearling, our VP of Analytics, to gain a bird’s-eye view on this topic, discover some of the broader trends, and get an example straight from our own experience.
To Thearling, analytics has multiple definitions, and here are a few he likes: generating insights from data, finding patterns in data, and using data to answer questions. The common element in each of these definitions is “data” in its many forms. Initially, data was limited to what one could write down on a piece of paper. However, modern computers have allowed much greater volumes of data to be collected, culminating in the recent concept of “big data.”
Big data is about collecting all of the data you can get your hands on, from traditional numbers to things like text messages and video streams. By taking advantage of new sensor technology, we are now collecting data that we have never collected before. With so many activities leaving “data crumbs,” the challenge is figuring out what to do with all of this information. Fortunately, data storage is inexpensive, and Thearling notes that many organizations are collecting as much data as possible in hopes of finding a way to use some, or all of it, later.
Turning Data into Action
The process of data analysis is iterative, with data acting as the raw material that feeds a repetitive cycle of exploration and insight. Each cycle is informed by those preceding it, and by new data. Along the way, actionable insights emerge, and this is where the proverbial rubber hits the road.
“At WEX, analytics is all about using data to deliver value for our customers, and to do that, trust in the data is paramount. If we’re providing answers to our partners, they need to believe they’re true, and that’s why follow-through on the analytic process is critical,” says Thearling.
According to Thearling, “changing behavior is where it’s at” when it comes to the end game for data analytics at WEX. A prime example is ClearView Advanced, the newest version of our fleet analytics and benchmarking platform that analyzes fuel and vehicle data. Based on analyses of fuel purchase data, we can identify drivers who are making wasteful premium fuel purchases. For many fleet managers, expensive fuel can translate into a big hit on the bottom line.
Once analytics identifies the driver, then what? With the end goal of changing drivers’ purchasing behavior, ClearView turns insight into action with a series of automated email or text messages, reminding drivers to purchase less expensive fuel. The result? Within 24 hours, 84% of the drivers contacted had changed their buying behavior. For a large fleet, this single change in fueling behavior can save a company thousands of dollars per month.
Analytics Creates a Culture of Success
“Our development of ClearView Advanced is just the latest example of how we’re using analytics to move the needle for our customers. We’re also looking to apply this approach and philosophy to Virtual Payments and WEX Health, and are excited about the innovations it will create,” added Thearling.
Thearling notes that like WEX, the most successful companies are the ones that make analytics and data a part of their corporate culture. This kind of information-based environment and strategy nurtures innovation and attracts partners and employees with a shared passion for the power of data. In fact, he observes that one of the hottest jobs today is that of data scientist, a position which combines the best of right brain/left brain thinking. The ideal candidate pairs a solid understanding of statistics and programming skills with the ability to visualize the insights and patterns in a meaningful way – something Thearling refers to as “data artistry.”
If all this talk about data analytics has you wanting more, then check out our job postings to see if there’s a place for you on the WEX team!