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Monsanto’s CIO Develops Data Science Platform of the Future

10-23-17

By Peter High, published on Forbes

Over the past four years, James Swanson has been leading a digital transformation in the agriculture industry. In is current role as Chief Information Officer at Monsanto, Swanson has been trying to develop ways to make use of Monsanto’s vast pools of data and derive insights that can inform company strategy. In a previous interview, he explains that this digital transformation is focused around five pillars that define the digital opportunity: operational excellence, business productivity, customer centricity, revenue enablement, and disruptive innovation. Since then, Swanson and his team have launched “science@scale,” their internally branded cloud analytics ecosystem. This highly scalable data science platform has drastically increased the speed of data analysis driving a cost savings increase of over $15MM and sales revenue increase of $17MM in the U.S. by completing months of scientific work in a matter of hours. As he notes in this interview, the results have been thrilling, and for that reason Swanson is a recipient of the 2017 New York Summit Forbes CIO Innovation Award.

When asked about Swanson’s contribution, Monsanto CEO and Chairman Hugh Grant noted, “At Monsanto, collaboration is our competitive advantage. Collaboration with scientists across R&D was essential to the successful development and launch of science@scale. By marrying extremely talented big data and cloud analytics engineering team with skilled scientists, the team created a unique partnership to drive innovative thinking.”

Peter High: Please describe the innovative idea that you and your team in IT pursued.

James Swanson: Monsanto’s IT division wanted to provide our data scientists the ability to collaborate and share analytics models on a global scale and enable our scientists to take full advantage of our ever-expanding information assets. With this goal in mind, the team developed “science@scale,” our internally branded cloud analytics ecosystem. Since its release, this platform has proven to accelerate the development of analytics-driven decision models by turning data into actionable insights across our R&D pipeline and Commercial and Global Supply Chain, paving the way by transforming data science from exploration to full production implementation.

Our science@scale combines the best-in-class data science tools, like R/Sparklyr, Python/PySpark, OR/OPL, and Java/Scala, with scalable big data and cloud analytics infrastructure, like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform, to support high performance computing and memory intensive data analyses to solve complex agricultural challenges for Monsanto’s next-generation plant genomics research.

High: What opportunity or issue to be resolved led to this IT-led innovation?

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