Arun Ramaswamy Creates Tomorrow's Measurement Solutions

Digital devices have radically transformed how we perform everyday tasks—from watching TV shows and shopping for the products in our pantries to managing our health and even heating our homes.

So it should come as no surprise that new technology has always been a key part of how we measure these changing consumer habits.

At Nielsen, no one understands this better than Arun Ramaswamy, chief engineer.

"The last few years have been really exciting," Arun says. "You have really seen this onslaught of new services, the streaming services, the digitization, the cloud, and that's made it a lot more exciting for a technologist like me because you see a lot more changes happening and you can use technology to solve the problems."

With nearly 100 patents to his name, Arun is equal parts inventor and problem solver, a master at taking impossibly complex challenges and unraveling them with custom-built tools.

“Think of engineering as the shell around the consumer. We're putting these solutions together in a way that allows us to figure out what the consumer is watching and buying in the most comprehensive manner.”

"Think of engineering as the shell around the consumer," he explains. "And what we're doing is we're putting these solutions together in a way that allows us to figure out what the consumer is watching and buying in the most comprehensive manner."

Where Others See Problems, We Build Solutions

With consumers' time fragmenting across devices and platforms, Arun and his team of more than 300 engineers are responsible for having the tools to measure all of that time. But Arun doesn't shy away from this increasingly difficult task.

"We call fragmentation our friend," Arun says. "All the technologies that are transforming the way clients are producing content and making it available for the consumer are the same set of technologies that we are leveraging for measurement."

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"What's next for Nielsen is making sure that that measurement is comprehensive. So we increased our measurement footprint. We make sure that the devices that need to be covered are measured."

That means constantly innovating—creating new tools to measure new devices, as well as ones that have been around for a while. Small screens have been grabbing headlines in recent years, but the original screen—traditional TV—remains the biggest part of our media consumption. American adults 18 and older spend on average more than 4 hours every day watching live television.* That’s more than double the time we spend daily on our smartphones—the next most popular device.

Enter the Nano meter. Previous TV meters were bulky—about the size of a pizza box—and required several parts and long, expensive installations. Using our same award-winning content identification techniques, the Nano meter combines two tools into one and is the size of a paperback book. It’s also 75% cheaper to install.

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Those are all clear wins, but the real success is what you can't tangibly measure. Smaller devices and shorter installations improve panel cooperation and boost data quality. They also make it more cost-effective to increase the size of television panels where and when needed—a crucial piece of the solution to address media fragmentation today and into the future.

The Nano meter is built for the future, which is increasingly connected, especially throughout our homes. Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, the Nano meter can communicate with other elements around the house—such as wearables, smartphones and even a new breed of streaming meters developed by Nielsen to capture over-the-top (OTT) and broadband content consumption.

In Search of Tomorrow's Problem-Solvers

While engineers may be more known for their tech prowess than their social schedules, it's not a solitary job. Arun's team has to work together to create the measurement tools our clients use—fast.

"We are problem solvers. We can take problems and come out with solutions very quickly ... that's what the company looks to us for. That's why we have to be nimble in creating solutions. We are technologists that help create measurement solutions."

“We are problem solvers. We can take problems and come out with solutions very quickly ... that's what the company looks to us for.”

But speed must be balanced with quality. Our data is currency for our clients, and there are no do-overs. To keep his team on the cutting edge while moving quickly and getting the right results, Arun has turned his eye for innovation from technology to his own team's processes and adopted a development system known as Agile methodology.

"What that means is to not think of massive projects, but to think about bite-sized projects where you have smaller teams," Arun explains. "You focus on what we call the minimum viable product. What are the must-have features that you can produce in the shortest time frame?"

But as any manager or team leader knows, a workflow or system is only as good as the team behind it.

"It starts with the talent," Arun says confidently. "It's between the investment in people who understand big data technologies and can process massive amounts of data ... and those who can think about personal devices and the Internet of Things and also be more cognitive in our measurement."

* Nielsen Total Audience Report, Q3 2016