Unlocking the Value of Data


Mastering data analytics can reveal a multitude of business learnings and the means to improve your products and services, yet the sheer volume of data available often leaves companies immobilised. Here, we detail five simple steps to unlock the value in your data.

1) Be Clear on What You Want to Achieve 

The difference between sitting on a gold mine of information or drowning in it depends on how you approach big data analysis.

Criticaleye’s Managing Director, Charlie Wagstaff, explains: “As is the case in so many aspects of business, it pays to have a clear strategy; it’s no different with data analytics. By knowing what you want to achieve you can hone in on the data you need to accomplish it. Go in as though it’s a treasure hunt and you’ll soon find yourself lost in a sea of information.”

Catriona Marshall, CEO of Hobbycraft, has learned that the best way to benefit from data analytics is to set clear objectives: “We cottoned on to having a customer club a couple of years ago and through it we rapidly built a database of over two million people − and we use really smart analytics with that.

“We haven’t gone for big data and got swamped with finding our way through, or had to put a lot of resources into understanding it, we’ve been really clear on what we were looking to deliver. While we have a mass of data that we can drill into to answer numerous questions, we tend to focus just on what we really need to know to drive specific behaviour.”

2) Present the Information in a Meaningful Way 

The second trick to analytics is to present the information in a meaningful way, explains Peter Lumley, Head of Business Intelligence & Analytics at PA Consulting Group.

“People want something visually rich. They don’t want a flat table of numbers but something they can interact with,” he says.

“You need to pick the right tools for the job. With products like Qlik, Microsoft, Tableau and Niagara Files, there are a whole set of offerings that give you opportunities to do new things.”

As an example, Peter describes how his team at PA Consulting Group worked with the UK’s local Government: “In under an hour we were able to extract their public data, put it into a dashboard and start to build insights. The intriguing part is that if you really understand how a local government works you can bring that data to life. There’s a theme developing on the use of analytics alongside business understanding.”

3) Understand the Etiquette of Big Data 

“Access to swathes of online information has raised public questions about the big brother nature of data analytics and whether it will be used it to ‘spy’ on people,” says Criticaleye’s Charlie. Be aware that you will have to find a balance between interaction and intrusion.

This is something Ruchir Rodrigues, Managing Director of Digital Banking at Barclays, knows first-hand having had to reassure the public of its intentions following the recent release of its data analytics tool, SmartBusiness.

Using transaction information, SmartBusiness allows UK SMEs to track their financial performance, compare themselves with other local businesses and then use Barclay’s online tools to reduce costs and grow the business.

“We’ve got permission from the customer so we’re legally compliant but that is not enough. You have to be very cautious that everyone understands that it’s anonymised information and the customer’s privacy is secure. You have to spend time and energy reassuring the customer, even if you have permission,” says Ruchir.

4) Partner for Quick Progress

Norman Bell, Group strategy and IT Director at Travis Perkins, highlights the widespread challenge of finding the talent needed to support the data function. “Not having enough of that technical capability is a major limitation. There just aren’t enough data analysts coming out of university to meet the growth in demand – which is almost as big as the growth in data.”

At Hobbycraft, Catriona has tackled staffing constraints by partnering with external companies. She explains: “One of the ways that we’ve overcome resource is to contract out to really good partners – these being younger, smaller, really hungry partners who would give us a good deal financially but were really keen to prove themselves.”

Harnessing innovation through partners is at the heart of Barclays’ strategy. Ruchir explains: “We let partners develop on an open platform, which makes it easier for them to show the relevance of their intellectual property and also makes it a more efficient model.”

Through its programme, Accelerator, Barclays supports fintech companies by offering investment, mentoring and business connections and in return gains the latest insights into machine learning, digital banking solutions, cyber security, payments, cryptocurrency, and wealth management.

5) Build an Army of Analysts

Partnering with external companies can build momentum and create a drive for further change internally, yet it’s not enough to support long-term growth and innovation. “As businesses become more inherently digital, so too must their workforce and that means building up the talent from within,” says Charlie.

Peter at PA Consulting Group advocates that talent be built internally. “In our business recruitment is challenging, the people who have the right skills are in high demand, which also affects the market,” he says.

“I think companies are missing a trick in not building the resource internally. Reskill the people you have by building communities around a few very skilled people, it could make a big difference in the long run.”

Ruchir – who sees data and digital as becoming integral to every aspect of business at Barclays − stresses the same point. He says: “It’s difficult to find people who really understand data sciences so we’re encouraging everyone in the business to be analysts. We need to change the culture from going to ask the nerdy people in the corner what the data means, to everyone in the business becoming a data expert.

“If we can change the organisation’s mind set and culture to become more data led then we can get scale behind using information.”

Do you have an interesting story to tell about data analytics? Share your experiences and opinions with maryanne@criticaleye.com

Read more about fintech partnerships and dial into our upcoming Global Conference Call to hear Catriona Marshall discuss the challenges of being a first-time CEO.

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Reinventing the Role of the HRD

In the face of new technology, shifting demographics, the need for greater diversity and international competition, the boards of global companies expect a lot more from the Human Resources Director (HRD). While process and compliance matter, the fact is that the HRDs which provide the most value are the ones who understand why the talent and people agenda must be mapped to the business plan.

Matt Stripe, Group HR Director for food company Nestlé UK & Ireland, says: “The transactional element of the function can’t be ignored. You have to undertake performance development reviews, pay rises and so on, but that’s not the stuff that adds value to the organisation.

“What businesses are really looking for now, and I think line managers and business leaders are far more people-savvy than they’ve ever been, is for HR to participate in determining and shaping business strategy.”

Yetunde Hofmann, former Global HR Director for Imperial Tobacco, agrees that the “traditional terrain of HR” of policy, well-being, employee relations and health and safety, are not going to disappear. At the same time, because of HR’s critical role, it will need to align its agenda so it’s simultaneously operational and strategic.

In essence, it’s having the ability to facilitate the development of an organisation’s capabilities and culture in order to deliver on strategy. Debbie Hewitt, Chairman of retailer Moss Bros, comments: “HR Directors are increasingly around the top table… If you’re having the debate about whether they should be, you’re 20-years’ behind. Great HR Directors have a huge contribution to make in many places across the business.

“The challenge for a HR Director is to make sure they’re not at the board table just for HR. I take it for granted [that] they will do a brilliant presentation on talent, succession and HR strategy. Where I get massive added value from a strong HR Director is when they contribute to issues other than those specific to HR, such as if there’s an acquisition to be made or an investment – they can bring a unique perspective.”

Stuart Steele, Partner for Human Capital Consulting at professional services firm EY, says: “Chief HR Officers [CHROs], HR business partners and subject matter experts need to understand context… [and] have an appreciation of the organisation’s strategy, its competitors, [the wider] economic trends and how these are forecast to impact [the] current and future workforce. I meet practitioners who demonstrate this capability on a daily basis – however, they are probably still in the minority.

“Interestingly, we are increasingly seeing the appointment of CHROs who have not come from the HR function… In part, I believe this underlines the importance being placed on understanding business strategy and operations. As good leaders, these individuals are expected to be able to mobilise the HR function to develop and execute people initiatives in direct support of the business strategy and plan.”

Deborah Cooper, Director at search firm Warren Partners, says: “The strongest HR directors have had experience outside the HR function… They tend to have more business credibility and ask different questions, rather than having a narrow skill-set purely through HR. Those who are rounded and have broader business experience tend to be meeting demands more effectively.
“The most effective HRD is one who can bring strategic thinking, real enterprise vision and business understanding and not one who’s necessarily technically strong in siloed skill-sets.”

The role will continue to evolve in this manner, especially as the more process-driven elements of the function become easier and cheaper to outsource. For many HRDs, the question has to be: Unless they are involved in harnessing capabilities and culture to deliver against strategic goals, what value are they really adding?

A person of influence

The use of data and proper information management are a prerequisite for efficient HR functions. For Matt, the insights provided by technology to enhance performance need to be watched closely: “It’s exciting to think what analytics will give us in a very short period of time – we have bits of it, so I can pull off good information now but in the future, and we’re probably only talking a couple of years, you’ll be able to look at so much more.

“It won’t just be whether a business leader is delivering on their results; you’ll be able to add the 360 degree evaluation to that, plus some others tests to check on emotional and social intelligence, including an ability to measure employee stress levels. It will be a lot more holistic.”

Nicola Pattimore, HR Director for business process outsourcing concern Equiniti, comments that “the use of data analytics to help drive decision-making has increased hugely”. However, in order for this to be meaningful, HRDs need to be commercial in their thinking and strong-willed when presenting information to the top.

If this isn’t the case, there is the danger of data simply being used to create added layers of bureaucracy, or for HRDs to shy away from discussing harsh truths about performance. “It can be a lonely job because often you’re having to act as the conscience of the business, challenging senior leaders and sometimes telling them things they might not want to hear,” says Nicola.

“When you’re sat at the table with a CEO, CFO and COO, you need to be able to inform and help make strategic decisions. A lot of that will entail providing a perspective on people, but you need to have that impact and influence.”

Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director of Corporate & Public Sector at Criticaleye, comments: “While being technically and commercially competent, effective HRDs are unerring in their focus on how talent can be utilised to deliver against the business plan, both for the short and long term.

“The very best HRDs are distinguished by their ability to collaborate and form partnerships across an organisation – they understand how to influence the CEO and the board.”

It’s a case of having a full appreciation of what levers need to be pulled in order to improve performance. Stuart says: “I aspire for CHROs to contribute to the determination of business strategy, however, where they can really come into their own is during the development of the organisation’s business [plan]…

“CHROs can also challenge untested assumptions around the business… As an example, if an organisation is [setting] up a new business in a new geography, should they implement along the lines of the existing operating model, or use this initiative as an opportunity to adopt a different approach?”

The difference in value lies in a HRD being involved in the formulation of plans, as opposed to merely responding to operational necessity. While some HRDs are functioning at this high level, it’s evident that others have a long way to go.

I hope to see you soon



Leading a Digital Culture

Comm update_14 JanuaryAs new technology continues to turn traditional business models upside down, the onus is on executive teams to embrace change while encouraging employees to think and act differently. It means challenging conventional approaches, testing ideas and creating a ‘digital culture’ within an organisation which is attuned to and reflective of changing customer expectations. It’s inevitable that the companies that fail to adapt will struggle to compete effectively.

For large, well-established organisations, deep-rooted changes are required. Julian Payne, Line of Business Director for Solutions at De La Rue, a supplier of identity and product authentication services to governments and multinationals, says: “If you’re a first-generation digital start-up business or technology company, you don’t have to think about digital culture, you just have it. You have an agile development team… and you are open to change.

“Whereas if you’re working in a bigger business or a business with a significant non-digital legacy… you’ve got to think about the DNA of the culture that you want to create… It means thinking about what’s happening in the wider context around everything from hosting, to the cloud and big data analytics.”

Laura Haynes, Chairman of brand consultancy Appetite, explains that digital needs to be part of the core business: “People think about digital as being something outside their regular business issues, but it is time to think differently and recognise that the first way to reap the benefits of a digital culture is to break down silos and integrate digital thinking and processes throughout the business.

“Sure, there will be parts of digital that may need new technical expertise, but there is the opportunity to explore the potential to improve processes and communications, but this means embracing digital.”

It’s about connecting the established practices with the new, and reaching a balance which allows digital to enhance or adapt the traditional offering. Bal Samra, BBC Commercial Director and Managing Director of BBC Television, who is leading major digital projects such as BBC3 Online, the iPlayer and BBC Store, comments: “Our values at the BBC are always going to be the same… but we are in a different world – it feels like everything is speeding up… You need to create a culture in your organisation to evolve from the old to the new.”

Executives on point 

Senior executives in an organisation need to take the lead on digital. Bal says: “The CEO has to set the pace of the vision… So that means constantly talking about the world around us and how it’s changing, and moving that from being scary to being an opportunity.”

Leaders need to be open-minded. Laura says: “The challenges are understandable because if you take a lot of senior leadership, they’re having to relearn a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally… it’s not just about learning techniques; it’s about learning to think differently about processes, about truly interactive and real-time communications, about the utilisation of information and how to analyse what’s in front of us, as well as new media.”

Julian says you have to “remove fear and de-risk digital” through experimentation and education: “Get them to play at home more. Ask them to use some of the modern apps that, frankly, kids are using.

“You need an interpreter role, it might be your CTO or it might be head of R&D. Someone who can take relatively complex concepts of digital and introduce them to a board… [Crucially] you have to be really clear about where the customer value lies, the cost to achieve it and the steps to take.”

Younger employees are increasingly being turned in order to share their digital expertise, acting as reverse mentors for an older generation. Paul Brennan, Chairman of cloud infrastructure software provider OnApp, comments: “You need to utilise younger people who are going to be the consumers of your products and services in ten years’ time, to understand how they want to communicate with you.”

Allied to this, employees should be allowed to experiment and test ideas. “You fail fast and learn,” says Bal. “What you want is an innovation kind of culture which says if you fail… and if something doesn’t work, you move on. You’ve got to create a culture that allows people to challenge the conventions.”

For this ‘digital culture’ to be meaningful, it has to be joined-up with how the information generated by technology is being used to bring about collaboration, experimentation and to inform decision-making. “New technologies enable us to act in a very different way,” says Emma Cooper, Managing Director of UK Health and Public Sector, and Organisational Change Lead for the UK and Ireland, at Accenture.

“They allow us to tap into workers anytime, anywhere… Digital is changing organisations, silos and hierarchies.”

Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK, a company that provides outsource customer services, says: “Huge insights can be gained from analysing conversations, utilising voice and text analytics, to truly understand customers’ emotions, frustrations and behaviours, and combining that with more traditional, structured data analytics… You need to ensure all customer engagements consistently reflect and represent the brand.”

In order to fully endorse digital, leaders have to understand the tangible business benefits. Paul comments: “A lack of awareness of the value proposition means you could miss opportunities, so education is important for senior executives to fully embrace digital. You need to understand the benefit to your organisation.”

At the very least, they have to be honest about where gaps in knowledge and expertise may lie. Mike Greene, Chairman of pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company WinchPharma Group, says: “Boards need a diverse mix of experience, energy and ambition… If they haven’t got someone who’s digitally savvy and digitally confident then their board is missing something, but unfortunately they often recruit in their own image.”

Helen comments: “Digital is so critical to businesses… It’s essential that digital is in its DNA, not a separate operating unit; not an adjunct… It needs to interface seamlessly with the rest of the organisation.”

Large corporates may struggle to embrace a truly digital culture, but senior executives must rise to the challenge. Ultimately, leaders need to ensure they are open-minded and willing to learn, while utilising new technologies and data in order to empower employees to meet changing customer demand.

I hope to see you soon



Why the Internet of Things Means Business

Comm update_17 December3If the Internet of Things (IoT) achieves the scale many experts are predicting, the changes will be far reaching. From how energy is used, to simply going to the fridge for a snack, the widespread adoption of sensors to connect machines so they can, in effect, ‘talk’ to one another has the potential to transform the delivery and capability of products and services.

It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say the IoT is already happening and is only set to get bigger. In 2013, approximately 10 billion sensors were shipped worldwide, and this year that figure will be just over 24 billion. By 2017, it’s estimated that nearly half of all IP traffic will be from non-PC devices (2013: 33 per cent).

“It will have a transformational effect over the next five years,” says Matthew Smith, Global Head of Market Development for the Internet of Things at Cisco Systems. “What we’ll see in the first phase will be a lot of process improvements – it’ll be processes that already exist that can be combined.

“So if you have a supply chain, you’ll be able to combine that with your e-commerce strategy and your fleet delivery and transport to make sure everything is ‘talking’ to each other at the same time. You’ll receive real-time updates and that really allows you to conduct the scenario planning that is required.”

It will lead to increased volumes of data. Geraint Anderson, Non-executive Director at component supplier Volex, says: “The competitive advantage will lie in how to make sense of all this information and use it to inform decision-making. It’s about understanding key trends and issues by sifting through the volume of information that is available.”

Paul Brennan, Chairman of cloud storage provider OnApp, says: “The Internet of Things is a huge opportunity for data mining. If you’re running a company that is, for example, going to be looking after and maintaining office complexes, student accommodation or hospitals, this will provide the ability to analyse the data within different systems.

“So if you’re looking at the optimal way to heat apartments in cold countries for instance, you can start to do things very intelligently in order to manage the flow of energy, as opposed to a monolithic approach which is to turn the temperature up for the entire building.”

As a result, significant growth can be expected in device manufacturing. “There will be software companies which are writing the applications and the programmatics to help manage and optimise the Internet of Things,” says Paul. “It will then be people looking at the way in which they can integrate [the various elements] across the IoT platform.”

Get connected

There is a lot of excitement and speculation about the impact the IoT can have on healthcare. Matthew says: “In the longer term, there will be things happening we haven’t thought of yet. So, if you have a [fitness tracker wristband like] Fitbit, it could be connected to your refrigerator, which could be connected to your supermarket [order] and your scales, so you know what you’re eating and [why] you weigh [what you do].

“From there, you can gauge how much exercise you’re taking and [this information] can be [seen by your] doctor, who can then provide real-time healthcare advice rather than sick-care. All of this can be connected to the insurance company you use, which can start to provide dynamic pricing.”

This new eco-system, or the ‘sharing economy’ as it has been described, will lead to the creation of different business models. However, as every part of our lives becomes tracked and open to scrutiny, there are understandably concerns about privacy and how secure this information actually is.

Steve Muylle, Criticaleye Thought Leader and Professor & Partner at Vlerick Business School, says: “There are quite a few risks, such as security. If you look at health, what if somebody hacked your medical records and changed your drug prescription?

“It goes beyond that. If you are in a hospital and the Internet of Things is used to treat you, what if that treatment was changed automatically by hackers?”

Transparency over data policies will be increasingly important for organisations and, ultimately, they will have to invest more on protecting customer information. Heather Savory, Independent Chair of the Open Data User Group, which provides advice to the UK Government’s Data Strategy Board, comments that “cyber security is going to be absolutely paramount because since you’ve got automatic control of things, you need to be sure somebody can’t tamper with automated processes”.

That said, the positives brought about by greater interconnectivity should be kept in mind. “There are real issues around how people fear personalisation,” says Heather. “But the Internet of Things isn’t about Big Brother, it’s just about using data more effectively for the benefit of the economy.”

Fact or science fiction?

As ever, there is a lot of PR and marketing about the IoT and some of the expectations around what can be achieved may prove to be outlandish or downright silly.

Ultimately, the growth of the IoT will depend on customer demand, reliability and the price points being right, as was seen with Web 2.0 and mobile.

Matthew of Cisco doesn’t doubt for a second that once critical mass is gained, the impact of the IoT will be game-changing. “We’re looking at this over the next ten years being a $19 trillion opportunity… In fact, it will be five times as a big as the internet.”

While difficulties can be expected, from technical issues around the compatibility of devices to regulatory scrutiny, there is a strong sense that the IoT is something that businesses need to be paying close attention to.

I hope to see you soon



What’s on the Mind of a CFO?

Comm update_20 August1

Collaboration is essential if chief financial officers are going to perform to the highest level. They have to be highly analytical, commercial in approach, capable of shaping strategy and possess a keen eye for detail and process at the operational level. It’s why technical expertise and good interpersonal skills are so important as the CFO will be pulled into a variety projects right across an organisation.

“The demand on the CFO is to be a bit of a silver bullet guy,” says René Matthies, Chief Financial Officer for energy company E.ON UK. “They need to be strong on different capabilities, particularly stakeholder management. It’s a balance, on the one hand supporting customers and the business and, at the same time, managing the delivery of the strategy and financial targets while safeguarding compliance and managing risk.”

It relies on possessing a diverse set of skills. “The role of the CFO is a lot broader so it’s no longer about accounting and [bookkeeping],” says Shatish Dasani, Group Finance Director at electrical systems manufacturer TT Electronics. “It’s about getting to know the business, being a commercial player and getting involved in strategy.”

The CFO will be called upon for their insights on a variety of issues, from IT, legal and HR, to the more traditional areas of financial modelling, compliance, acquisitions and speaking to analysts and investors. Steve Allen, Managing Director for Finance at TfL (Transport for London), says: “You have to be able to work collaboratively with colleagues, draw out information, challenge constructively and yet still be able to present results in a robust manner.”

David Santoro, Executive Partner for IBM Global Business Services, says: “The role of the CFO has… gone from one that’s been custodial in nature, statutory and regulatory [in its focus], to one that’s now more forward-looking and oriented towards providing strategic input into the business…

“Data and reliable information are probably the most important assets in the armament of the CFO today and that’s definitely something that has changed dramatically over the last ten to 15 years.”

The emphasis on risk management has grown significantly. Bob Emmins, Finance Director of sugar supplier Silver Spoon, comments: “Gone are the days when risk management was just what the financiers asked and the auditor thought about. It has to be embedded into the business, so that people are considering the risks whilst making their decisions.”

Deirdre Mahlan, Chief Financial Officer of alcoholic beverages company Diageo, says: “Globalisation, or the increasing tendency of businesses to act and think globally as opposed to just being present globally, has shifted the balance in terms of thinking about risk and reward.

“Certainly, when your business has less presence or less at stake in multiple cultures, multiple economies, different sets of socio-political environments, you can manage that risk-reward and resource allocation differently.”

As a business becomes more global, the dynamics around risk and resources becomes far more complex. “I think many organisations and individual professionals are still working their way through getting to reasonable levels of comfort in doing that,” adds Deirdre.

Using Intelligence

Technology’s impact on the role of the CFO is only going to increase. “It is driving both the strategic and detailed aspects of the work,” comments Barbara Moorhouse, Non-executive Director of the Lending Standards Board. “More of an organisation’s strategy may be technology led; support systems are becoming more complex and risks are increasingly technology related – and hard for non-specialists to understand.”

The speed at which information can be sliced and diced is proving to be both a blessing and a curse. Jim Wilkinson, Chief Financial Officer at African investment concern Lonrho, says: “Technology is changing the role because everything is becoming more immediate and the amount of information is increasing significantly.

“This means that time management skills and being able to identify the valuable information is extremely important. It is also making the role far more 24/7 than ever [before].”

It’s one of the reasons why finance functions are rapidly evolving, so they can provide productive insights by integrating operational and financial data to inform the decision-making process. “The operating model is changing from being transactionally focused – so producing reports, closing the books [and reconciling accounts] – to one that’s much more focused on… insight creation and driving real value back into the business,” says David.

In fact, many organisations are keen to outsource the day-to-day aspects of management accounting in order to bring in people that can enhance performance. “It’s a massive challenge facing finance [teams] globally and one that is causing a fundamental shift in how they look at… investing in the future of finance,” he adds.

What hasn’t changed is the need to talk regularly with the CEO and, in effect, act as co-pilot. Paul McKoen, Chief Financial Officer of bed and mattress manufacturer Silentnight Group, comments: “A CEO needs the support and complete loyalty of a good CFO, but they also need somebody who is prepared to stand up and criticise and tell them when they’re wrong. It can’t be an uncritical relationship.”

Jim makes a similar point. “The CEO and CFO should work extremely closely together as partners. However, they should also be challenging each other and not be afraid to speak their minds and have differing opinions. Respect for each other’s style and achievements should still overcome any fundamental disagreements,” he says.

The CFO has the widest ranging role on the board, with the emphasis firmly on forming alliances to make sure strategy and execution are aligned. As Deirdre puts it: “The biggest change in the role of the CFO, over the last decade or so, is a shift from almost a policing or reporting function, as the primary role, to one of business partnership.”

I hope to see you soon.



Big Data’s Place on the Board

Comm update_19 Nov

The volume of information currently available to businesses, and the ways in which this can be analysed to drive insights about performance, customer behaviour and strategy, has moved onto another level. While ‘big data’ in and of itself won’t provide all the answers, board-level executives increasingly need to sit up and take note of how it can benefit the decision-making process.

Retailers are only too aware of the huge influx of information now at their fingertips, but knowing how to utilise it across various business units is another matter entirely. Fiona Briault, People and Service Director at retailer Asda, says: “The challenge is how you bring all the data together through one part of the business to say: ‘That is what the customer thinks and these are the areas we should be focusing on.’

“At the moment there’s a tendency for data to be fragmented into different business areas… the goal is to understand how you link data together in a complex business to create one story.”

Eddie Short, Partner and Lead for Data and Analytics at KPMG in the UK and EMA, says “What we’re seeing with big data is that a silos-based approach is not always that effective. For example, when you look at some of the big retailers, they’re very good on quotes to the customer and particularly in giving you vouchers and new offers, but they struggle to get line of sight of what that actually delivers to the P&L.”

Look closely

It’s a learning process for businesses, but progress is certainly being made. Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at outsourced contact centre company Webhelp TSC, says: “More bits of information, when they’re pieced together effectively, help us to understand the clients, their propensity to buy, the way they make decisions and how they behave, and their likelihood to either want follow-up support or not. That then helps us to make decisions about how we treat each individual.”

For Steve Parkin, CEO of Mayborn Group, which makes baby and child products, there has been a concerted effort to break down the profile of customers in order to gain a better understanding. “You’ve got to build loyalty though an emotional connection and be very clever with your rational call to action to drive purchase behaviour,” he explains.

“We’ve segmented our marketplace down into six different consumer typology groups… [and] with the data that we’re capturing, we can understand the typologies of mums on the database that we’re building.”

Mark Wood, SVP and Managing Director of EMEA for US-based cosmetics firm Revlon, comments: “We’ve invested a lot in terms of mapping where customers go on digital and social media and following that pattern to make sure that our brand is always front of mind and that we’re always in the right places.

“[By engaging on social media] customers see that we’re listening to them, that we’re taking an active part in terms of what they want from the brand, and that we’re delivering against that through the conversations we’re having with them.”

Each customer touch point has to be seen as an opportunity to innovate. Neil Ward, VP and General Manager of Business Operations at internet communications platform Skype, says: “We’re using data to blur the lines between a support interaction and a brand opportunity… Beyond resolving customer service issues faster and more efficiently, we’re now seeing that problem solving is a gateway to taking a user’s insight and up-selling to them or deepening our engagement with them.”

Inevitably, this does entail not being afraid to try something different. At Asda, for example, it was decided to stop using a marketing agency to run social media interaction and instead bring it into the customer contact centres. “By running it in-house we can not only respond on social media for more of the working week, because our contact centres are open longer hours, but it also gives us consistency of approach in how we talk to those customers and the messages with give them,” says Fiona.

Game changers

According to some reports, 90 per cent of the world’s data has been produced in the past two years. There may indeed be elements of marketing hype around ‘big data’, but equally it’s clear the ongoing transition to digital has created a whole new universe of information to be explored.

It’s a somewhat daunting prospect. Research by KPMG International, which involved conducting interviews with 144 CFOs and CIOs from multinational companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more, found an overwhelming 96 per cent of respondents believe their company is not currently using data and analytics effectively. Eddie comments: “The one singular wrong answer is to do nothing. We don’t all have to be data scientists with PhDs in statistics, but I think everybody has to embrace a more data-driven approach.”

Good decision-making involves understanding what your options are. You assess the information at hand, analysing data, speaking to various stakeholders and thereafter a choice is made. What follows next is called leadership, so that the decision arrived at is acted upon and implemented across an organisation. It’s the latter that many businesses need to start concentrating on if they’re going to capitalise on the information now at their disposal.

When it comes to big data, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

I hope to see you soon.



The Great Customer Obsession

The power of the customer is growing and the businesses that can’t provide top quality service across multiple channels are being cruelly exposed. In this complex environment, world-class competitive advantage belongs to the alchemist CEOs who make the customer the focal point of the whole organisation.

Steve Pateman, Head of UK Banking at Santander, says: “You have to be focused on delivering an exceptional level of service to your customers, in every product and interaction. You cannot afford to be slack, because as soon as you are, two things happen: one, your customers move, because there are so many options, and two, your shortcomings become widely publicised.”

This is posing a number of questions for companies. Bridget van Kralingen, IBM’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Services at IBM says: “CEOs are reporting that technology is changing, from back office transactional support to really enabling connectivity with customers and clients… [However,] it has put a lot more power in the hands of the consumer. If you look at social media, there is no such thing as the corporate veil anymore.”

It goes way beyond the old mantra of ‘listening to your customers’. Chris Merry, CEO of accountancy firm RSM Tenon, explains: “The voice of the client is important to everyone. You need to filter feedback through the business to provide your people with the material to help them communicate effectively.”

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For many organisations, the issue is that, as they’ve grown and technology has evolved, various silos have emerged which frustrate customers and inhibit decision-making. In fact, recent research from IBM suggests that although a large number of UK and Ireland CEOs (63 per cent) agree that customer relations is a key opportunity for sustained success, three-quarters of them feel they need better information to make that happen.

It’s about those at the top being able to drive strategy by making informed decisions. Stephen Leonard, IBM’s UK and Ireland CEO, comments: “Around 40 per cent of CEOs are saying they don’t have access to the right amount of data they need to make decisions, let alone the decisions that other people in their organisation need to make… [Success is about] arming people with the facts.”

After all, data has to be acted on for it to be effective. Jim Waller, Group Commercial Director at Carphone Warehouse, says: “The issue is just making sense of it…  It comes in from lots of different sources and is a complete scattergun… What’s important is being able to interpret that data, and its implications.”

Bridget says: “In terms of how you lead an organisation, one of the key differences between overperformers and underperformers is how much data is embraced – the drive to access it, analyse it and act on it… There is so much out there about your customer that is unstructured and needs context and analysis, and now there is the means to do that in real time.”

When you have the data, allied to the perennial ability to get out there and find out what’s happening on the ‘front line’, you have a winning combination. Henri Winand, Chief Executive of clean power technology company Intelligent Energy, says: “If you are a CEO who never talks to your customers, then you won’t have the insights, and can’t organise your business in the way you need to. Without insights, it’s difficult to do good business.”

Steve certainly likes to take a hands-on approach, as can be seen by the way customer feedback is handled at Santander. He says: “Complaints are the best perspective on your business… I read all of those that reach executive level and will personally send them to the relevant business head to find out what will be done…

“Originally, annoyed staff asked why I was interfering when the complaints team were designed to deal with these things, but it has actually started to change the way people engage with complaints… Now we are starting to get a sense of ownership… they look at them, understand what went wrong, and they make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Keeping pace with customer expectations must be a strategic priority. As we’ve seen, from Kodak to Woolworths, even the largest, time-honoured of companies can become a casualty if it is unable to understand change and adapt accordingly, whether that’s because of new products, technology or levels of service.

Stephen explains: “A lot of companies are struggling and failing; it’s not that they don’t see what needs to get done, they just don’t get it done… Think about the UK high street – in recent years it has been essential that high street stores sub-optimise their business model to get to market fast enough… [but] they can’t.”

The successful CEO will be the one who thrives in such a connected, fast-moving world.

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

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