When given the choice of nearly 200 radio stations, the average Sirius XM radio subscriber almost always rotates between just three or four channels. Those few stations provide a glimpse of the subscriber: their hobbies, potential consumer activity as well as what they care about.
Through that brief glimpse, conclusions can be drawn. That’s the power of data analytics, and digging deep into that data is part of what Srikanth Iyer faces daily.
Iyer is the associate director of Data Sciences at Sirius XM Holdings Inc., the world’s largest radio company measured by revenue with approximately 33.5 million subscribers. It’s also the parent company of the streaming giant Pandora.
“There’s an art to analytics,” Iyer says. “The biggest challenge is being able to understand the application, ask the right questions and scrape the data. With Sirius XM, it’s our content that drives everything. We are recording every single click and the way that you interact and all of the data comes back to us. It’s then our responsibility to be able to handle that massive wall of data.”
It’s a responsibility that Iyer does not take lightly and he knows that the next generation of data scientists need to be equally committed to their craft. That’s one of the reasons why he wanted to give back and start teaching courses at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
In addition to his role at Sirius XM, Iyer has spent the past four years as an adjunct instructor in the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program at the Fox School.
By their nature, data scientists have a tendency to dig deep into the numbers and focus on the data. While that is important, Iyer says that an especially effective analyst is able to communicate data accurately and efficiently. As he teaches his students the importance of communication, he notes that he credits it as one of the prime reasons why he has received four promotions in just under 10 years with Sirius XM.
“For me, there’s what I like to call a full stack of skills,” Iyer says. “It’s not just modeling. You have to understand big data and big technologies. You need to have the skills to dig into all kinds of data, and then you have to be able to communicate the results of models to key stakeholders and ambassadors.”
While Iyer shares his wisdom on his students, the reverse is also true.
“I learn as much from my students as they learn from me,” Iyer says. “I have students who ask really good questions. It’s a lot of work to essentially bring data to a format where we can apply predictive models, but that’s what they’re doing on a weekly basis, and that’s why I’m so confident that they’ll be successful as they continue to climb the professional ladder.”
Iyer says he believes the industry will continue to evolve at a lightning fast pace in the years to come, but one thing remains constant: content is king. That won’t be changing anytime soon, either.
“It’s about content,” Iyer says. “That’s why we do what we do. We want to collect the data, so that we can develop customized content to engage the customers. That’s true for Sirius XM but also true for any company or organization that utilizes data science or analytics. As the tech savvy Gen X and Gen Y move into the age brackets that have traditionally driven growth, Sirius XM will be at an inflection point in terms of its ability to engage its audience and deliver value. Data science will be an integral part of that effort. That’s why it’s so important that we remain agile, and that’s why programs like the Fox MSBA program are so key.”