Chief Data Summit 2015

Letitia Oglesby
November, 2015

This years’ Chief Data Officer Summit was an absolute pleasure to attend. The annual conference is a must attend event, attracting professionals & organisations under pressure to develop a big data strategy from all over Europe.

It was great to mingle with representatives travelling from all corners, including France, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden to name a few, and getting up to speed on the latest trends. Whilst talking to several attendees at the conference many were addressing the value of having a big data strategy. What can they expect to achieve and more urgently, where to start? There is a wealth of technology available for organisations, but the problem for decision makers occur in selecting the right framework to support their needs. In a highly competitive market, the advantages of data capabilities are driving companies to be ahead of their competitors. On the other hand, constantly changing the data & the digital side of the organisation can’t ignore the key driver of change; people!

Shorten the gap between the data and decision makers

Andrew McMurtie, Head of Business Intelligence at Royal Mail urged the need to build a solid, high performance team to distribute the data. There is currently loads of data for companies to take advantage of, but they must have; a clear strategy prior to investing in big data; a team of competent professionals able to communicate and deliver the results

Andrew McMurtie, Royal Mail (2015)

Companies such as Airbnb, Spotify, Uber and eBay all had a clear strategy prior to investing in big data. Their strategy prior to investing in data science and advanced analytics has allowed them to get to know their customers on a new level. They are now the largest taxi company and they don’t even own a single vehicle! Royal Mail had to tackle the decline in UK letter volumes. Their strategy was to ‘rust up’ their analytics team, by investing in talent and technology, to drive and deliver data more efficiently to decision makers.  Now, with a solid team to support the data, Royal Mail is in a position to assure revenue. The data provides invaluable customer information, to answer who is about to leave and is the business getting paid for what they should get paid for? Working to improve efficiency and customer service has resulted in UK parcels market volume growth by 3.7% from 2008 to 2013. Royal Mail experienced the value of a solid team handling the data, and seems prepared to invest further in talent, to keep developing the tools and stay ahead of competitors.  Andrew McMurtie, Royal Mail (2015)

Digital & Data – Mind the gap!

Earlier Andrew pointed out that there is loads of data for companies to take advantage of. On the other side, loads of data is meaningless unless you have a context. Simon Gretton, CDO at Zurich advised organisations to address right data over big data.

The only real value lies in accurate data with the right focus to equal better decisions. To fully understand what creates valuabledata, organisations must know the difference between digital and data. I quite liked Simons ‘pick and mix sweets’ metaphor. “Digital is picking your flavours, while data is mixing the best combinations”. Digital is the value creator, the true customer champion and the medium for any interaction. On the other side, digital does not exist and can’t deliver an experience without support. Data is the company and the physical drive, to be moved to the front office. It is impossible for a business to drive value without the agility of data. A third factor, which plays a key role in order to eliminate the gap between digital and data is culture. In a very competitive market, culture is changing large organisations at the minute. Quick culture is a massive challenge, and particularly for large organisations. One cannot create digital without data, nor digital without culture.

Enablers for data

We see Royal Mail investing in talent, growing their analytics team to stay ahead of competitors and that culture is a huge advantage in terms of data capabilities to optimize the data value chain. Geoff Clark, Head of Data at Wonga described culture as the main driver of data across teams. Culture is vital to improve the agility to react to both positive and negative feedback. The right culture ensures the quality of the feedback loop, development and analytical skills, which encourage people to do better. Geoff listed 4 other key enables for data; Agility, Timeliness, Data Quality and Usability. Geoff Clark (2015); Agility

Geoff strongly emphasised that organisations strive for continuous change to remain competitive, always feeding integration into the organisation information pipeline. A common problem organisations face is that while they seek to reduce the time from development to release, is the quality of data change. Timeliness is a constant factor. How timely is your system to react effectively to issues quickly? While the insight from the warehouse must come quicker, organisations can’t afford to rely on poor data. Time is important, but quality is key as decisions can only be as good as your data. Geoff explains that this process involves constant testing, validation and monitoring, though organisations seems to ignore the validation stage the most. At usability, the product is communicated to the teams, thus seeking to monitor the performance and feedback. The final product must be taught to the rest of the team, building a broader understanding and improving the culture.

The Analytics team

From a recruitment point of view, I’ve experienced selective clients seeking to secure the best talent. Recruiting for exceptional analysts are no exception. Mark Curling, Head of Analytics at OneFinestay described the future of data analysts as needing to be commercially savvy first, and technically skilled second. Good technical skills can be learned, while commercially savviness is inborn according to Curling. Mark Curling (2015)

In addition to processing and modelling the data, the analytics team provides the necessary visualisation for the Insight team to deliver the experience. Being a part of the analytics team is by far a more varied role than before. The analytics team owns the data used for reporting, to drive the data across the business and extract actionable insight. They provide the right information to the right people at the right time, thus leaving them invaluable to any organisation.

Big data cloud

From a broad variety of interesting talks, I must say there was one in particular that resulted in loads of questions from the crowd. Keyur Mehta, Head of Data Architecture at Betfair entered the podium to present Betfair’s journey to big data cloud. With 100 million transactions per day and £55 billion trading value, it is safe to say that Betfair handles a fair share of data. In addition to handling transactions, Betfair monitor every single click made on their website, tracking the entire customer journey. Betfair has invested heavily in big data, emphasising on “speed is key” and their choice of process can currently handle impressive 2 billion queries in 10 seconds.

The future of big data is becoming more and more apparent, organisations are definitely under pressure to develop a big data strategy. They are and need to be investing in big data to stay ahead of competition, and what is clear is that having a clear strategy prior to the investment is essential, an issue and key point that was expressed on the 1st  day of the Chief Data Summit.

Interestingly, I have observed data executives from different organisations claiming to have explored their vision and strategy, however, most are struggling when it comes to choosing the right technology, suitable for their business needs. Big data offers great opportunities, but with great opportunities comes big challenges. The ‘why’ seems clear, but the ‘how’ is still a very live question. The data is available, but the problems occurs in storing, processing and using it. Organisations wants to produce insight quicker, but can’t ignore validating their data to ensure quality. Royal Mail has done really well, turning their business into an analytics driven organisation by noting the need for commercially savvy analysts to support the analytics team, which is key to closing the gap between the data and the decision makers, thus finding the best combination of people and data. Choosing the best technology is also really important to support any growing business, but ultimately, culture and people drive and change data, while data helps drive the business. Throughout we must remember that “Data is a journey, not a destination (Simon Gratton)”.

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