The decision maker

6 Mar 2012

George Moore, chairman and CEO, TARGUSinfo

If data is the oil of the 21st century, then Louth-born businessman George Moore has helped build the refineries. The co-founder of TargusInfo can be considered one of the founding fathers of the decision analytics industry which is crucial to the digital revolution.

George Moore is a towering example of how members of Ireland’s diaspora are kick starting revolutions around the world. Data analytics, or decision analytics as he prefers to call it, is one of the pillars upon which 21st-century internet companies – in fact, most companies – will depend whether they are selling flights, advertising or music.

TARGUSinfo’s decision analytics technologies are used by companies like Facebook, as well as various Fortune 500 companies and businesses like airliners, to ensure firms can analyze customer behavior and anticipate their needs. “It’s one of the reasons why you can book a flight in less than 60 seconds on the internet,” Moore explains.

The Washington, D.C., company, of which Moore is CEO and chairman, has been acquired in recent weeks by Neustar for an estimated US$580m.

Moore is a board member of the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board and the New Ireland Fund and in 2007 he received a honorary CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and his international work for all of Ireland.

University College Dublin graduate Moore left Ireland in the 1970s after winning a Ford Foundation scholarship.

After graduating with an MBA and a doctorate, Moore quickly found himself working in California at a time when Silicon Valley had begun its irresistible climb.

“I joined a very entrepreneurial intellectual property company (IP) called CACI International. What I learned at CACI was how to build a company within a company and so six years later when I was VP of the company and when it went public my wife suggested I start my own company. Because of the entrepreneurial nature of CACI there was no fear in my mind to contaminate and so I got into business and it was very successful.”

And so National Decision Systems was born and became one of America’s fastest-growing companies.

In the early 1990s, Moore co-founded TARGUSinfo with Jim Schaffer to develop a new generation of information services using intelligent call processing for businesses ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, in particular, telecoms providers.

“I’ve always been in the analytics field and we would be the intelligence behind the analytics.”

The decision analytics field

I mentioned to Moore that analytics lies at the heart of the latest trends, like big data and cloud computing.

“I’ve seen industries go through many cycles and at present the technology industry is rewrapping something that’s been around 20 years. When we started TARGUSinfo in 1993 it was a cloud computing platform.

“In terms of what’s happening in the decision analytics field, we have gotten to the point where everything is measurable. When you consider our behavior online of making airline and hotel reservations, buying from Amazon, doing Google searches, being on a Facebook page, we now have a superior picture of ‘John’. But fortunately or unfortunately, there are thousands of Johns. But because I’ve seen a lot of your behavior, I can aggregate you into various decision clusters – such as the recommendations engine that recommends the next Netflix movie you’d like or an ad targeted to you, or an offer made to you on Groupon.

“Remember the whole axiom ‘50pc of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50pc’, well, with decision analytics what you’re really driving to is to get the odds in your favor.”

TARGUSinfo counts major brands such as Facebook, Verizon, Comcast, Groupon and AT&T among its myriad of major U.S. customers.

“Facebook, for example, has 800 million pairs of eyeballs and advertising has got to be relevant, targeted and timely. That’s what decision analytics does; it is about matching you with what you are interested in. Otherwise, the whole web would be cluttered with irrelevant stuff,” Moore explained.

“Under the hood, the ecosystem is very complex. We all take it for granted that you can make an airline reservation in less than 60 seconds or buy a camera off Amazon. We take it for granted.

“I would describe us as one of the key cogs in the ecosystem that makes it all work.”

Moving closer to Ireland

When he set up TARGUSinfo, Moore and his wife made the decision to move from California to Washington, D.C., to be closer to Ireland and he returns frequently to Ireland every year. “As far as some people are concerned, we’ve never left.”

Moore’s closeness to his native country is also evident in the interest he takes in investing in Irish start-ups as an angel investor and his involvement with the ITLG. In recent weeks, he attended the major roundtable in New York between some of America’s top CEOs, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Moore said he’s impressed at the sense of pragmatism in Ireland and the country’s focus on getting itself back on track. “We’re not rioting or cutting off the financial line. We’re hunkering down and it’s part of the Irish culture of ‘we’ll get through this.’

“As a result, the CEOs and executives who are not of Irish descent see Ireland as an attractive place to invest. Ireland’s reputation is that of a small entity that is getting through the crisis. It is excellent. And it’s terrific that former president Bill Clinton has put his name on the line to promote Ireland. The roundtable was very constructive and many of the CEOs congratulated the government of Ireland on what they’ve achieved, thanking them for being pragmatic.

“It may sound a bit cliché saying Ireland is open for business, but you’ve got to keep telling that story, because it’s a great story.”

One great story in particular, Moore said, is the work of the ITLG. “(ITLG president and founder) John Hartnett is passionate about what he does and leverages the talent around them. They are very focused and have done an excellent job in promoting Irish technology across the US.

“When Irish people emigrated to the U.S. they always had a friend or cousin who would meet them to show them the ropes. Well, this is not too dissimilar. I’ve been coaching Irish companies and showing them how it works and you prevent people from making errors and introduce them to potential customers. The ITLG have done an excellent job, especially with the Wild Angel Fund being created to invest in small Irish companies.”

As an Irishman who went to America and built up a number of successful technology companies, Moore understands the challenges Irish companies face.

“When I left Ireland in 1973 and came to the U.S., if I was to compare and contrast, the U.S. was very entrepreneurial and companies were starting up all the time.

“Don’t ever forget, nobody ever started a large company. Every company began as a small company. HP was two guys, Intel was Andy Grove initially. Everybody starts small, some become big and obviously there are lots of failures.

“In Ireland in 1973 it would have been next to impossible for somebody with a great idea to get financing. Plus there was very little empathy for risk taking and less empathy for failure.

“As I look at it today, Ireland has developed tremendously. Not forgetting the debt issues, the country is attracting investment, we’re seeing lots of start-ups and people are taking risks so the culture has clearly moved on.”

George Moore on Silicon Valley

While every country wants to emulate the success of Silicon Valley, Moore is pragmatic.

“Silicon Valley is an ecosystem that thrives on itself. You have a culture of entrepreneurship, you’ve got a great venture capital ecosystem, you’ve got great scientists, technicians and mathematicians moving there … even take Facebook, it started in Boston but where did it go? Silicon Valley. It’s a unique climate.”

But Ireland has changed and Moore is all the prouder for it.

“Ireland has changed and it certainly wasn’t overnight. Silicon Valley didn’t develop overnight. I’ve always been an angel investor in small technology companies in Ireland, north and south.

“Like I said, all large companies started small and I think in the current economic environment in Ireland I would be bullish for the economy’s prospects.

“Despite the fiscal challenges the government faces and the debt overhang, many of the elements that made Ireland an economic success in recent history are still there – strong foreign direct investment, strong exports and tax advantages. Those elements are still there.”

Silicon Republic has joined forces with the Irish Technology Leadership Group to bring you The Silicon Valley 50 most influential Irish-American people in the tech world ahead of the ITLG Innovation Summit in California on 12-13 March.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years