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How do you Leverage Data Strategy into Action?

I recently stumbled across an old presentation from 2014 that I delivered to the Marketing Association. The brief was “once you have a Data strategy how do you execute and turn that into action?”. At the time I was transitioning out of Air NZ where I had formed and led the Customer Analytics team for five years – so I had much to say on the topic. Let’s see how my recommendations stack up in today’s environment…

Let’s start with the obvious big miss:

Bias towards on-premise hosting over cloud solutions. 

This just shows how quickly Cloud computing has moved from being fringe to mainstream. Hard to believe that only 6 years ago I would have recommended staying away from Cloud, however in my defence Air NZ was extremely nervous about Data sovereignty so my perspective was potentially being influenced by other factors.

What still holds true: These are the main points I shared which I believe are as relevant today as they were in 2014

There’s no point investing in Data unless you have an idea of what the ultimate outcome is and the value created. 

Too often I see organisations invest in Big Data platforms or chatbots, yet they can’t even tell me how many customers they have or how much they spend. A Data strategy needs to start with a solid foundation of robust basic customer-level information, then you can do the ‘fun’ stuff. 

Ensure a clear link to organisational strategy in order to build advocacy at the highest levels. 

The best way to gain endorsement from those who determine budget allocation is to be able to demonstrate how your team / project / initiative is directly contributing to a strategic outcome. This is very much related to the first point above.

Prototype on a small scale and develop iteratively.

This was before Agile was adopted en-masse by virtually every corporate in NZ and was driven simply out of necessity due to budgetary constraints. While Agile (the practice) is potentially the most over-used term in business today, the philosophy of being agile is the best approach for building capability (and you don’t need a coach).

Learn from organisations who are doing Data well. 

When I wrote this presentation back in 2014, there weren’t too many shining examples to follow of how to generate vast amounts of value with Data – particularly in the airline game. Nowadays however, the landscape is awash with success stories in virtually every category. Innovation is great and all, but copying is often quicker and cheaper.

Recruit experts (either internally or externally) with relevant experience to accelerate progress. 

What I realised early on at Air NZ was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I had to surround myself with partners and employees who could help me deliver results quickly. Leveraging other’s experience was the most efficient way to make progress and keep stakeholders satisfied.

Educate HR early on what good resources cost.

The laws of Economics state that if demand outstrips supply then the price will go up. Great Data people are rare, and everyone wants one so traditional IT pay bands may not be fit for purpose.

Leverage external vendors where requirements sit too far outside of your core competency. 

I am a fan of organisations taking ownership of their core Data assets and capability. However, stretching too far outside of whatever is deemed ‘core’ can end in disaster.

Maintain a healthy level of cynicism for pre-sales promises. 

As with all high-growth industries, Data and its associated technology has its fair share of snake oil salesmen. I have been burnt before by the promise of a revolutionary technology, only to find heartbreak and copious volumes of consulting bills to rectify. Caveat emptor is the lesson here.

Keep close to IT. 

Whether you like it or not, IT often has responsibility for all the Operating Systems, and the Data that flows from them so it pays to build close bonds. Having an open dialogue with IT allows roadblocks to be identified and addressed swiftly. Conversely, Failure to do so can introduce unnecessary friction in getting things moving.

Make friends with your Privacy officer. 

Another equally important player in any organisation dealing with customer Data is the Privacy officer. I have dealt with a number over the years and the impact that their attitude to privacy plays in your success cannot be overstated. 

Line your stakeholders pockets with useful insights. 

As much as we all enjoy basking in the glory of our collective peers’ adulation, in my experience it’s the more private gestures that yield the greatest return. A sure fire-way to gain executive support is to feed useful insights to influential stakeholders and make them look like heroes.

So as I reflect on how my experiences in the world of Data have changed since 2014, the main observation is that while the technology, languages, cost, power and job titles may have evolved, the underlying principles of how best to leverage Data have not. The main theme remains the same, Data Analytics is a people business….without good people and good relationships you will get nowhere.

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