Paul Lewicki built his company on analyzing numbers. But even he has trouble processing the impact of Spain's plummeting economy.
"Would you guess how many workers in Spain don't have enough money to buy groceries for their families?" asked Lewicki, 59, his voice rising while seated on a couch in his office at StatSoft, the software company he founded in 1984.
One in four workers lack money for basic food needs, Lewicki said. While estimates vary on poverty in Spain, The New York Times in September highlighted the growing popularity of dumpster diving for food scraps.
Lewicki's company makes data analysis tools that can be used by businesses to improve efficiency. Now, StatSoft has announced that it will offer free analysis tools to companies in struggling Spain, Portugal, and Greece.
"We've been watching with kind of both anxiety and compassion what is going on in Europe, but also in a sense of perceiving a paradox which is almost painful to watch," said Lewicki, who was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1980. Companies simply don't have capital -- or credit -- to invest in themselves, Lewicki said, likening the situation to a sick man unable to afford his medicine.
"I understand why people in Zambia or Mozambique are not using advanced analytics," Lewicki said, noting that those countries lack the infrastructure and educated workforce found in western and southern Europe.
In those countries that have developed such advantages, it's a matter of "using smart ways to take advantage of what they already have," Lewicki said.
Some business owners in Europe are "desperate to achieve something," Lewicki said. "They need tools in this incredibly competitive world right now to help them be more effective and efficient."
He speaks confidently about what he describes as the proven potential of data analysis to improve practically everything. StatSoft had a modest start as an offshoot of Lewicki's research as a University of Tulsa professor in the field of cognitive psychology.
Simply stated, analytics "allows you to predict whether you are on the right track or the wrong track," Lewicki said. Extremely useful to scientists and academics, Lewicki said the value of sophisticated analysis allows for improvements in almost every field -- certainly in business and manufacturing.
"Without this technology, you wouldn't be using iPads and iPhones because those chips would cost thousands and thousands of dollars because the rate of failure would be so high," Lewicki said.
Major players and competitors include IBM and SAS. Lewicki said he couldn't say what market share his company has, but his company's software very frequently is mentioned in the footnotes of academic papers of all stripes.
Lewicki said his company started with a focus on the early microcomputer market, developing effective software products that didn't necessarily require tremendous amounts of computing power.
Even now, Lewicki said he considers the company's nimbleness a competitive advantage.
"We take better advantage of inexpensive hardware," Lewicki said.
He spoke proudly about making StatSoft a company where workers also enjoy some flexibility, describing his effort to create an environment where self-driven individuals can set their own hours, essentially.
"I think this is very much a part of what makes us so unique, the quality of people and their focus on the value that they provide and on being useful and making the world a better place," Lewicki said, adding that he thinks being based in Tulsa rather than Silicon Valley helps reinforce those values.
He said StatSoft has less worker turnover than many other technology companies, explaining that such a culture would be difficult to maintain in Silicon Valley where workers change jobs more frequently.
The company has also developed a product line focused on improving the efficiency of power plants, which Lewicki said can result in cleaner-burning plants.
Such a software program might cost "a couple hundred thousand dollars or so," but Lewicki described such a price as "nothing compared to what it would cost to achieve similar savings by throwing a lot of money into hardware."
So far, he said his company has found it challenging to develop this market despite what he described as independent research from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electric Power Research Institute.
But it's a definite goal.
"We are working on it very hard and that is one of the places where we can truly make the world a better place," Lewicki said.
As far as deciding which European companies to provide the free software and support, Lewicki said StatSoft is focused on companies truly based in those countries -- no multinationals -- and who can potentially boost the economy by increasing wages or with additional hiring of workers.
"The social benefit is the key in the process of deciding which companies will be getting it or which companies will be getting it first," Lewicki said.
Lewicki expects to hear from quite a few companies interested in taking up StatSoft's offer.
"The machine of promoting it in those local markets is not fully in gear, but from the very early reaction I can see that we will have, we will be facing hard choices who will be getting it because there is so much demand for that," Lewicki said.
And even he acknowledged that data analytics will only go so far in curing what ails the European economy.
"I'm not saying analysis alone will turn the economic fate of Europe, but it could make a very, very significant difference," Lewicki said.
Along with the direct aid the businesses, he said he hopes "we will encourage people in other industries to do the same," Lewicki said.
Large corporations might be willing to make similar offers "which represent not perhaps extremely big cost on the part of the large corporations that's capable of helping," Lewicki said, adding that such efforts can "produce huge return on investment in terms of social benefit."
For those mired in the worst of Europe's economic doldrums, "it's hard to almost imagine how terrible a situation those people are in," Lewicki said.
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