University of Michigan Takes Top Prize at Adobe Analytics Challenge

by Nate Smith

posted on 11-10-2017

One of the best parts of my job here at Adobe is that I have the honor of running the Adobe Analytics Challenge. It’s a unique competition where university students are asked to create business cases for a real-world organization. They’re given access to Adobe Analytics and real data—this year it was from MGM Resorts International – to make their case. I have a soft spot for this competition, having participated in it and won it back in 2009, while I was pursuing my MBA. Soon after, I joined Adobe and now I’m head of global product marketing for Adobe Analytics.

We just wrapped up our 2017 challenge, and competition was particularly tough, with nearly 80 colleges and over 1,500 entrants participating. The University of Michigan’s “Adjusted R Squared” team came out on top. Team members Rei Liao, Rajiv Khattar and Erica Kirshensteyn created a proposal with unique segmentation strategies, tactics to capture more international travelers, suggestions to curb “drop-off” in certain areas of the booking process, and improvements to the rewards program.

It was a tough job selecting one team – The pace at which all the students could pick up an enterprise-grade analytics tools, use advanced techniques like machine learning, and find answers (in data) to pressing business problems, was impressive. In a corporate climate where driving customer intelligence can decide winners and losers, all the students are primed for success.

Presentation Day 2017

We were thrilled to have MGM Resorts International join us as our brand partner this year. With 23 destinations around the world and millions of guests coming through the door each year, this is a brand that engages with customers and knows how to provide compelling experiences on everything from the website and mobile app, to the hotel lobby.

Sylvester Obafunwa, director of web and digital analytics for MGM, attended the competition presentation day and was able to give students an opportunity to analyze real data from their digital properties, and to figure out how to enhance the guest experience to drive loyalty. He was joined by an esteemed judging panel including Ron Miller, enterprise reporter at TechCrunch; Laura Castro, consultant at Analytics Demystified; Adam Greco, partner at Analytics Demystified; and Hila Dahan, co-founder of 33 Sticks.

Our six finalist teams from NYU, BYU, BYU Idaho, Univ. of Michigan, Univ. of Utah and Univ. of Texas/Dallas had 20 minutes each to make their case and answer questions from the judges. The proposals spanned the gamut: some pitched enhancing M Life, the popular rewards program from MGM, while others looked at driving higher conversion and delivering better personalization to improve the bottom line. The presentations highlighted the importance of delivering a consistent and beautiful digital experience across every step of the customer journey, from booking to the hotel stay and amenities. Every solution that was proposed was underpinned by strong analysis, showing the importance of not only gathering customer insights, but prescribing action.

The key criteria in selecting a winner was the use of data in Adobe Analytics; whichever team found the best story in the numbers, and used those insights to drive their proposals would have the best chance of taking home the top prize.

Along with the $35,000 grand prize, it was nice to see the impact it had on the winners, all of whom are in the class of 2019 and going for their MBAs.

“Studying in the business school, we have many opportunities to solve the business cases at class, but rarely get the chance to engage and impact the business in the real world. It’s especially inspiring to see how Adobe uses data to empower clients to make better decisions,” Rei said.

Sylvester of MGM shared a few words as well, on the value of the competition from his perspective.

“Allowing students to utilize real-world data, apply their critical thinking and creativity of thought, and provide actionable recommendations to the business sponsor at no cost, was absolutely invaluable to MGM Resorts International,” he said. “The proposals spanned everything from analyzing the optimal user path, to identifying friction points hindering shopping behavior on a mobile device, to even addressing the complex concept of classifying user personas that are constantly changing based on the user’s journey. These were just a few items that I (MGM Resorts International) plan to address in our 2018 road map.”

Nurturing the Next Generation

When we began the challenge in 2005, the technology landscape was in a very different place. We’ve seen an explosion of devices, channels and technologies disrupting every industry, such as mobile, voice, IoT, machine learning and AI. Brands from all different industries now face the same challenge of engaging and connecting with customers on digital.

To address these challenges, companies need the right talent. Employees who have skills around data analysis and advanced computational methods such as AI and machine learning are in short supply. Even outside of data teams, everyone from marketers to operational specialists are expected to be more data-driven in their work. With the Adobe Analytics Challenge, we have the privilege of spreading a message to today’s college students that data is not intimidating, but something that drives the modern-day business world, and is a phenomenal path to great career options.

Topics: Analytics