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What’s in a name? Our very essence!

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By: Milen Mahadevan, President
Subject Matter Expert
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Welcome to The Spark, a leadership blog featuring ideas and perspectives from our business leaders.

When our company formed nearly eight years ago, we heard all the jokes. We got compared to a boy band (98 Degrees), a sci-fi novel (Fahrenheit 451), a TV show from the 90s (Beverly Hills 90210), an 80s song (“867-5309”), and several others that I’ve long since forgotten, thankfully.

Alas, none of these were the source of our name. In fact, 84.51° is the longitudinal location of our Cincinnati office, and, coincidentally, we study customers over time.

Way back in the 1700s, seafaring was the best way to explore, and to conduct trade. Latitude was the easy part: you could use the sun, moon and stars to calculate how far north or south you were. But longitude was the most challenging, most complex scientific problem of that era. For much of human history, sailors routinely were delayed, lost, or shipwrecked for lack of knowing it. A 1707 English shipping disaster caused by poor navigation cost the lives of 2,000 sailors, and in 1714 the British Parliament passed a bill that offered a huge bounty to whoever could invent a means of determining one’s position accurately.

The way that folks solved the longitude problem may sound familiar to you:

  • Collect lots of data – the more the better

  • Look at the data over multiple dimensions (time, patterns, currents, etc.) to get a more comprehensive view of what’s happening

  • Use science to test and prove new approaches

In 1730, a carpenter named John Harrison started to develop a clock that could keep accurate time at sea. Through trial and error (test and learn!), Harrison made several modifications and enhancements over the ensuing decades. Meanwhile, competing entities tried to discredit Harrison’s work. It wasn’t until the 1800s that chronometers became widely available and trusted.

The next wave (no pun intended) of longitude progress happened in the mid-1800s, when the first “big data” companies starting gathering and standardizing ocean and weather measurements taken by ships. One such company collected data from hundreds of sailing vessels about each 5° latitude/longitude block – more than a million data points in all. Then they used those data points to derive insights. And they used those insights to create an easy-to-use tool: a statistical map with sailing directions that reduced sailing time by up to 30%. Hmm, sounds like they “made people’s lives easier.”

These companies also made money selling their maps. For an owner of a shipping company, the maps could save them time, save them money (no delayed or lost cargo) and even save the lives of their ships’ crew. The maps were a real value to them, so they gladly paid for the insights.

At 84.51°, we’re not saving sailors from a watery tomb. But like those early pioneers in longitude, we’re:

  • Tackling complete mathematical problems

  • Collecting lots of data

  • Looking at patterns over time

  • Using cutting-edge science and applied analytics to derive key insights

  • Making those insights actionable

  • Building breakthrough tools/solutions that are easy to use and helpful

  • Making people’s lives easier

And yes, like those early companies selling longitudinal maps, we’re also commercializing the data – but we’re only able to do so because it provides value. Better still, the revenue is used to enhance our data, science, analytics, and solutions, to reinvest in the customer experience, and to make people’s lives even easier.

So, while 84.51° may be a “weird” name, it is a nod to the truly groundbreaking scientific and analytical work that helped inspire it.

By the way, if you’d like to dive deeper into the “the longitude problem” of the 1700s and learn about John Harrison’s epic quest, I recommend the book Longitude by Dava Sobel.

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Milen Mahadevan, President
Subject Matter Expert
Milen Mahadevan was named president in July 2020 after serving as Chief Operating Officer of 84.51°. Mahadevan is responsible for the day-to-day leadership, management and vision for 84.51° to deliver best-in-class re...learn more

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