BYU Reclaims Top $15K Prize at 2015 Adobe Analytics Challenge After Two-Year Hiatus

Last Friday, six student teams from four universities battled for their unfair share of $30K in prizes at the 14th Adobe Analytics Challenge (AAC), an annual analytics-focused case competition hosted by Adobe. Unlike traditional university case competitions, the Adobe Analytics Challenge (formerly Adobe Digital Analytics Competition) gives the students access to real data from leading corporations. Teams of up to three students use Adobe’s industry-leading analytics tools to identify valuable insights and present meaningful recommendations to an Adobe customer.

This year Adobe partnered with Starwood Hotels, one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with more than 1,200 properties in some 100 countries. In the past, the competition has focused on analyzing website data, but this year the students were given the challenge of analyzing mobile data from Starwood’s popular SPG app. The students were tasked with analyzing the booking, account management, and on-property experience within the app and providing meaningful optimization recommendations to Starwood.

At the beginning of the competition, we launched a new website to provide students with a centralized location for sharing competition information and handling team registration. This year the competition was opened up to more schools than it has in the past. Approximately 965 students from 24 different universities competed in this year’s competition — more than double the participation levels of 2014.

After the teams were given a couple of hours of training on Adobe Analytics, they had just over two weeks to analyze the data and build a 10-minute presentation with their findings and recommendations for Starwood. More than 120 teams submitted presentations, and 24 teams were selected to present their presentations via Adobe Connect in a semifinal round. From these teams, six finalists were chosen from BYU (x2), Kellogg (x2), Michigan, and UCLA to present in-person at the Adobe Lehi campus on Friday, Nov. 6.

Jen Yacenda (Starwood) and other AAC judges focus on a team presentation at the AAC final event.

This year’s judging panel included two judges from Starwood: Jennifer Yacenda (Director, Channel Intelligence & Digital Analytics) and Drew Howard (Mobile Product Manager). In addition, we had an Adobe partner, Joe Christopher, VP Analytics at Blast AM on the panel. To round out the judging panel, we had two judges from Adobe: Nate Smith (Sr. Product Marketing Manager) and Michael Halbrook (Sr. Consulting Manager).

For the past two years, a team from Kellogg has won the AAC, and Northwestern was gunning for a “three-peat” with two Kellogg teams in the finals. This competition originated at Brigham Young University back in 2005 with Omniture, and the private Utah-based school wasn’t accustomed to being a runner-up in its own backyard two years running. Fortunately, BYU’s Three Points Analytics team comprised of Robert Haws, Jacob Honsvick, and Hoon Song rose to the challenge and captured the $15,000 top prize by creating a data story that resonated with the judges. Robert Haws shared the following thoughts on his AAC experience:

The competition was a lot of work, but it really was a lot of fun. I would definitely say it has been one of the most valuable experiences of my MBA program thus far. It provided great exposure to a variety of important experiences: working closely with a team, data analysis, business strategy, marketing and persuasive presentation, to name a few. Because we were using a real data set, the whole experience felt very authentic, not at all artificial like some competitions may feel. The feedback we received along the way was very helpful. Starwood was very generous with providing information and answers to our questions. Adobe created a great experience at the finals that was very rewarding.

The second place $7,500 prize went to the Michigan DIAG team made up of Victor Chen, Timothy Chak, and Lan Nguyen. This was the first year that a team from Michigan competed in this competition so it was an impressive first foray. Another BYU team captured the third spot and its $3,000 prize. The third-place Capaz team was comprised of Carson Allen, Alexander Erickson, and Brian Phillippi. The all-female team of Emma Bijesse, Jenny Cheng, and Zenubia Madhani (Kellogg Keys) claimed the last of the big checks ($1,500) with a fourth-place finish.

BYU finalist Hoon Song presents his findings on the Starwood SPG app.

Jennifer Yacenda from Starwood was supportive throughout the whole competition process and a great partner during the event. When I asked her for her thoughts on the competition she shared the following:

From my perspective of being a part of Starwood analytics for  the last 10 years, I can honestly say that I was blown away with the effort and results the students put forth during the AAC. Their enthusiasm, professionalism and their desire to develop data-driven strategies exceeded my expectations. Each student clearly spent a lot of time, thought and effort to bring their best foot forward.

In a short few weeks, students demonstrated a strong understanding of the travel journey, how the app plays a part in that journey, and then leveraged data with Adobe Analytics to find opportunities that would improve our user experience. And perhaps, most impressive, students provided thorough revenue estimates for each of their recommendations to help us understand how their strategy would drive our bottom line. The results of the AAC will help us plan and prioritize a future roadmap for the SPG app for years to come.

We [Starwood and the SPG App team] are very thankful to have the opportunity to play such a role in this analytics competition. I wish we could participate every year. I am highly confident that we will be able to leverage this experience to drive SPG app enhancements in next year (TBD on timing). I am looking forward to that day – which will be an exciting and rewarding experience for Starwood, Adobe and of course, the students.

We were also fortunate to have a representative from the business side of Starwood on the judging panel, Drew Howard, as his mobile team would benefit directly from the insights and recommendations uncovered by the students. Drew shared the following thoughts on the competition:

Mobile is Starwood’s fastest growing channel, and also one of the most complex from a data perspective. The AAC was really valuable, to have a group of talented MBA students thinking about some of the mobile data challenges we face, and making insightful data-driven recommendations that will improve the user experience of the SPG app.

It was fascinating to see some of the different angles the teams approached the dataset from using Adobe Analytics and how some of the trend lines were interpreted. Overall, it was very worthwhile from Starwood’s perspective and our team is looking forward to implementing some of the recommendations.

I’d like to thank all of the students and universities who participated in this year’s competition and in particular the other two finalist teams from UCLA and Kellogg. I’d also like to thank Starwood for being a great partner on this competition as well as all of my Adobe colleagues who contributed to making this year’s AAC a success.

If your school is interested in participating in this competition next year, please visit the new AAC website as it will be the best place for information on the upcoming 2016 competition. If you’re an Adobe Analytics customer and would like to be considered as our featured partner customer next year, please reach out to your Customer Success Manager and they will put you in touch with me.