Executive Profiles: Disruptive Tech Leaders In Social Business – Kelly Pennock, Visible Technologies

Welcome to an on-going series of interviews with the people behind the technologies in Social Business.  The interviews  provide insightful points of view from a customer, industry, and vendor perspective.  A full list of interviewees can be found here.

Kelly Pennock, CEO of Visible Technologies


Kelly Pennock is Chief Executive Officer for Visible Technologies. He brings over two decades of experience in executive management and technology vision to the company. In his prior role as Visible’s Chief Technology Officer, Kelly was responsible for authoring the technology road map and driving the engineering vision behind the Visible Intelligence™ software platform.

Before joining Visible Technologies, Kelly served as President at First Data Corporation, a Fortune 200 company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. At First Data, he led the Analytics Business Unit that was responsible for the sale of analytics products across the company’s customer base. Prior to that role, he was Chief Executive Officer and President of Intelligent Results, an enterprise software company that delivered analytics and business intelligence software and services to global financial services institutions. Kelly also held senior positions at Amazon.com, the world’s leading online retailer, where he launched two of Amazon’s early stores and led multiple enterprise wide initiatives related to personalization and cross-sell. Before Amazon, he was Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Internet startup Cartia Inc., and a Chief Scientist in Information Sciences at Battelle’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory.

Kelly has authored multiple patents and won national awards for technology innovation. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in business and economics as well as a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from New Mexico State University.

The Interview

1. Tell me in 2 minutes or less why Social Computing is changing the world for your customers.

Kelly Pennock (KP): Agility, or the ability to innovate rapidly, is increasingly becoming the key to business success. Social computing, meanwhile, is fast becoming the key to that agility.

This makes sense because commercial tastes and trends, like any other cultural phenomenon, can’t be anticipated—at least, not with reliability. Commerce is therefore like any other emergent system—the weather or the stock market or the next best-seller. Prediction, except in the shortest of time frames or most static of markets, is unreliable. So if you can’t predict the future, the next best thing is to be able to see the present clearly, quickly and deeply and be ready to adjust as needed.

Businesses are figuring this out. Business planning used to be like building a bridge—devise a detailed long- range game plan that delineates the next three years of activity. Today, it’s clearly more of an innovation game—how quickly can you learn, adapt, try something new and then do it all over again next month. The business use of social media is all about learning from millions of “experts” on your products and brands, getting out there, trying things with your messaging, interacting with those experts to win their hearts and minds, and doing it in real time, all the time.

2. What makes social computing disruptive?

(KP): Social networks and the social intelligence we can derive from understanding human behaviors are disruptive forces themselves because they can help us understand what’s happening in society and commerce at a volume and velocity never before possible. For example, on average every 60 seconds there are more than 98,000 tweets, 1500 blog posts and 655,000+ Facebook wall posts.

Social computing is disruptive in another way. Social networks are not just a reflection of what is changing in culture and commerce, they are a catalyst for change: More people communicating about more things more often drives the evolution of culture and commerce at an ever increasing pace. The more we rely on them, the faster things change. The faster things change, the more we rely on them. So if the rate of change and the unpredictability of culture and commerce are what force us away from traditional business thinking in the first place, then the reliance on and participation in social networks as a mechanism to “keep up” ends up increasing the rate of change and makes businesses even more dependent on the agility they enable.

In a way, social networks are like a laboratory experiment: We can see the battle of ideas and brands in the network, identify the viral new and the dying old memes, quantify them and their rate of change, and measure the winners and losers at any point in time. It’s fascinating – and amazing – what you can learn. But like an experiment run amok, social networks and social commerce have spread to every corner of the world and now, we’re all caught up in the experiment.

So, in a nutshell, social networks and social intelligence make the present more comprehensible than ever before, and the future even fuzzier.

3. What is the next big thing in Social Business software?

(KP): Social networks provide a lab environment, of sorts, for society as well as commerce. Weather and culture have a lot in common—a large collection of individual units, molecules and people, respectively, interacting to create a macro or large-scale phenomenon. No one can predict the weather with certainty, but over the last 40 years, with the collection of massive quantities of data and the application of big computer models to figure them out, weather predictions are much more reliable than they used to be, at least in near term.

The spread of ideas through social networks and the resulting behavior will someday be predictable like the weather is today. It won’t be perfect, but we’ll gain a lot of insight and our guesses will be much more reliable than they are today.

This means businesses will be able to predict, not just guess, which messages will be effective, which promotions will move the needle, which consumers are buyers and what offers motivate them to buy. Utilizing the power of prediction en masse over the social universe will provide adrenaline to offline and online commerce, and thus, will be a multiplying force regardless of channel.

4. What are you doing that’s disruptive for Social Computing?

(KP): We are “un-homogenizing” social networks. The word network connotes for many a mass of tangled connections, something confusing and indecipherable. People think of social media as a faceless aggregation of consumers, much like a crowd, “wisdom of the crowds” and other terms confer that kind of homogeneity. We are pulling the network apart to reveal the fine structure underneath.

At Visible Technologies, we make it possible for marketers, customer service teams, and others across the enterprise to deeply understand social conversations at scale – easily. We’re bringing the social universe to the whole of the enterprise and enabling organizations to ask very precise questions of billions and billions of complex and multilingual pieces of human communications. What we provide is:

  • One part engineering: Google- or Yahoo-type architecture that can scale infinitely and deliver reliably to big companies.
  • One part science: Sophisticated machine learning that can compute things like the sentiment and intent of the communication in a host of languages, the influence and demographics and geography of the participants, the pyschographics of a site, and so on. This science will enable companies to specifically target social customer segments by age or gender or interests, much like they can in the “carbon world.”
  • One part user interface and workflow. These things make this mass of content and insight accessible and discoverable.

5. Where do you see technology convergence with Social?

(KP): Big data – or data and analytics at super-scale. More than 700 million Facebook users and 200 million tweets a day means a lot of data is being generated – and those are only two sources. Understanding data at scale and extracting and inferring data from that mass means massive analytics.

I’ve never trusted intuition or common sense when it comes to making decisions at scale. A lot of my career has been spent figuring out just how wrong and how often our guesses are for all sorts of things. Data can usually tell us a lot more about the right answer than our hunches will.

6. If you weren’t focused on Social Computing what other disruptive technology would you have pursued?

(KP): Predictive medicine. It entails predicting who will be prone to certain types of diseases or conditions or even injuries. Knowing this information allows you to institute preventive measures in the appropriate time frame to either prevent altogether, or at least mitigate, the impact of these issues on your health.

7. What’s your favorite science fiction gadget of all time?

(KP): The Antigravity Belt Buckle in Ultraviolet. She could change her personal gravity and so had a lot of fun walking up walls and along ceilings. She could also extend it to other objects, like her motorcycle, and make it perform the same kind of tricks. This has plenty of applications, from thrill seeking to good old fashioned self-defense.

Your POV

What do you think? Got a question for Kelly?  Add your comments to the blog or reach me via email: R (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com or R (at) SoftwareInsider (dot) com.

The Tech Vendor series is closed.  To be considered for the Business and Tech Innovators series, please reach out to Elaine (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com.


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