Can Yahoo's new CEO Thompson harness big data, analytics?

How will Yahoo compete with Facebook and Google? New CEO Scott Thompson is banking on big data and analytics.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

New Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson has a retail, technology and e-commerce background. The big question is whether he can harness Yahoo's data reservoir to innovate and create something "the world hasn't seen yet."


Thompson: Big data dreams

Thompson's comments, which came on a conference call announcing his appointment as CEO, hit a chord for me. As noted in my 2012 predictions, my working theory is that all companies are increasingly going to look like retailers. They will harness analytics, customer data and predictions to better serve the customer. Retailers have been using analytics for years to do everything from figuring out where to place stores to determine weather patterns and how they affect consumer spending.

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Enter Yahoo. Yahoo has been a leader in using Hadoop. The company serves up personalized home pages, targets customers and does it on the fly with real-time analysis. In the end, data is Yahoo's biggest asset. If Thompson can harness that information, Yahoo has a shot at generating real shareholder value without financial engineering such as going private, breaking up or selling out.

With that backdrop, Thompson's spiel on data is worth noting. Thompson was asked about how Yahoo is going to compete with exchanges, Facebook and Google in display advertising as well as personalization. Here's what he said:

It is just too early for me to have any informed opinion as it relates to the display space and what is happening there and what is going to be happening next. The one thing I would say to you, and I think this is very important for this business and a number of others, is that the data that these Internet businesses create and the analytical ability to understand what that data tells you, and the ability to use technology and analytics to drive a better outcome for your customers is in almost every business I'm familiar with, today, online and offline is becoming more and more critical. And I only get a glimpse at this point of how much data all of these wonderful businesses that Yahoo has. I feel certain that that wealth of data is going to be exploitable for next-generation products, next-generation experiences, and for super competitive capabilities in the display space in other space databases that are in marketing and advertising. So, a lot to learn, still very early, but my instinct says we're going to be able to find ways to compete and innovate that the world hasn't seen yet.

In my view that quote may indicate that Thompson is the right guy. In addition, Thompson touched on the data and analytics theme again. He said the technology is there for Yahoo to exploit. "I talked a little bit about the data element of this and data is a very hard concept to understand unless you are in the middle of it. We will be in the middle of it and there is tremendous value if you can organize and interrogate data at the scale Yahoo has," said Thompson.

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