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Ben Waber, PhD ’11

Mining data to help companies improve

When a company is looking to improve its productivity, Ben Waber can pinpoint ideas that might include free coffee or less e-mail.

Waber is the president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a management services firm that uses “reality mining” to study how employees can interact more effectively. The company’s research is based on data from social-sensing ID badges, e-mail patterns, phone logs, and face-to-face meetings.

“Our data demonstrates the value of communication between employees,” Waber says. “We’re figuring out how much people talk to one another, measuring conversation styles, and determining what can be done to improve productivity and job satisfaction.”

The specially designed ID badges that Sociometric Solutions uses collect quantitative data about where most interactions take place—for example, at a coffee machine. Waber’s group combines those results with e-mail and phone data to help identify the most effective workplace improvements. Waber notes that his clients, such as Bank of America and Steelcase, have zero access to individual data and employees do not have to participate.

One common finding: less e-mail correlates with higher productivity. “E-mail doesn’t capture a lot of dynamics that occur in the real world,” he says. “Face-to-face communication, on the other hand, allows for rapid, deep interaction that is so crucial for the type of work we do today.”

Waber maintains strong ties to the Institute, where he is a Media Lab visiting scientist. In fact, his company is based on research he began in 2006 in the Human Dynamics Laboratory headed by Professor Sandy Pentland, PhD 82. Pentland and research partners Daniel Olguin Olguin, SM 07, PhD 11, and Taemie Kim, PhD 11, work with the company, which is based in Boston.

The group’s research is the focus of Waber’s new book, People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work.

“The book talks about why data is important for business,” he says. “More importantly, it’s about how we can identify small changes in our behavior that will make us happier and more productive.”

A Philadelphia native and former senior researcher at Harvard Business School, Waber earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science from Boston University. His wife, Rebecca Waber, SM 08, was a member of the Media Lab’s E-Rationality Group and is a manager at Innosight, a Boston-based consulting firm. They have a three-year-old son, Josh, and a dog, Rufus.

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