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Struggling to Get Traction for Your Data & Analytics Program?

Clare Kitching Head of Advanced Analytics: Group Data Asset and Strategic Projects

You have the vision. You know where data and analytics can take you. You can see the opportunities for change within your business and you hear people saying, “We want to get more serious with data and we’re committed here.” 

But still, there are challenges. And today, I’m going to walk you through a few practical tips and tricks for getting through them, via four overarching streams of thought (which I’ll explain in further detail a bit later on):

  • Perfect is the enemy of done
  • Balance big picture with concrete details
  • Data is all about relationships
  • Manage expectations…in particular your own!

First though, a bit of background on me: I currently lead the development of Wesfarmers’ Shared Data Asset, working on creating one central data platform for our five retail divisions. Managing a data and analytics program across five different businesses with five different cultures? That’s me! 

Prior to Wesfarmers, I worked for McKinsey and QuantumBlack, helping clients from a variety of industries get the most out of their data and analytics. So as you can see, what follows comes from the perspective of someone who’s seen – and overcome – a lot of data and analytics program challenges.

Now before we really get into detail, let’s pause for a moment as I ask you a question: what exactly are the challenges you face?

Are you just starting out? 

Is there poor data literacy throughout your business and people just don’t seem to get its value?

Perhaps you’ve completed some PoCs and are now wondering how to scramble and get more investment and resources to scale. There may even be a whole different data and analytics skill set that you’ll need to scale, but you’re unsure how to identify and build for these. Or maybe there’s a lot going on in pockets of your organisation, but still gaps where people don’t necessarily “get” it, don’t want to change or aren’t providing the engagement and prioritisation necessary to create the value that you know is possible

A focus on value is table stakes. A good business case and big dollars can make things happen but it’s generally not enough. Getting the investment going usually requires proper evidence and an element of trust. Which brings us to tactics: what can you do to really start the ball rolling and get everybody on board with your vision?

‘Perfect is the enemy of done’

This is a saying I learned and lived through my many years in consulting. The data will never be perfect, but if you don’t even start, you don’t know where the holes are and you’ll never know what you need to fix. Ironically, one of the biggest barriers to getting started is usually that the data isn’t there in the first place – you need to start with something, because at least you can then provide your stakeholders with something they didn’t have before. 

Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the year, someone asked us to do a small piece of analysis. We had some holes in the data we had but could show the insights for some of our customers. Eight months later, people are still looking at this topic (things can move slowly). We have a lot of the holes in the data fixed and can now provide a much more comprehensive view. It may not be the fanciest model, but it’s bringing a different view to the problem for the stakeholders.

Balancing the big picture vision with concrete details 

So you’re finally getting started, but now how do you live up to the dream you’ve sold? Here is  where balancing the big picture vision with concrete details is really needed. 

This gets more critical the more you move along your program. You’ve painted the dream and showed what it could be, but as you get going, money and time has been invested and people want to see results. Generally, they understand it all a bit more, too. That’s why this area has two aspects to it: 

  • Firstly, it’s being concrete on what you’re actually going to deliver. There’s so much hype about AI, data and what it can do, but moving it from the grand idea to concrete projects is needed to make it real. 
  • Saying you’re going to create an excellent personalised experience for your customers is one thing, but explaining what this translates to in action is the key: “We’ll be creating a recommender that sits on the product pages to show related products, as well as sending follow up emails after purchase, changing their landing page depending on whether you know they’re a regular or first-time visitor etc.”  
  • Next, make sure you’ve got the detail and tracking to know what initial PoCs have gone ahead and how they’ve performed. If tracking isn’t in place or correct as you start, how are you getting this in place rapidly to show results in the face of uncertainty? 
  • One of my team members recently went through this – the results their model showed were a bit borderline for all the investment. However, this was partly due to the tracking data. Although it wasn’t a sexy job (and the data scientists also thought it wasn’t their job), after getting the tracking detail in place, they gave the business much more confidence in moving on to the next stage of the bigger picture. 

Data is all about relationships

A data engineer I once worked with told me that data is all about relationships – how the data joins together, but more importantly understanding and developing relationships with the people that own and use it.

It’s always easier if someone from the top says, “This is the way, let’s all go for it.” But the reality is that this doesn’t happen a lot. And even if you have the people at the top telling you to go for it, it doesn’t mean your initiatives get the level of prioritisation from the people who have to do the work. This is where relationships across all levels of the organisation matter and every person in your team plays their part.

With this in mind, getting your team right before things get moving is essential. The truth is, analytics is a team sport and such a mix and overlap of skills that there won’t (or shouldn’t) be one person that the team relies on too much. For example, if you don’t have a data scientist, consider what it is that your analyst and engineer can do together? Or how your data scientist can work with others in the organisation to productionise something? Do they know the supply chain analyst or category manager who may be trying to solve a problem without data? Will there be the need/opportunity for some contractor help to get certain skills as needed?

If you’re just starting out, openly discuss with your team the need to share what they do and meet more people across the company. Who are your peers that you can work with to make an impact? What are you doing to get to know them better? Having worked across multiple brands at Wesfarmers, I’ve noticed that the more you take time to get to know someone, the easier getting things done can be.

There are of course times where a carefully timed senior intervention can make a big difference. Our team recently faced a challenge with getting a CDP up and running with a division. While we had tried peer-to-peer relationships, it was hard to pin people down. A conversation with the GM showed how the potential project linked with strategic objectives and she quickly brought the team together to work out how to progress. Turns out things had still been going in the background, but a key person in the middle was leaving the company and had failed to connect the dots.

Managing expectations

A vital step in overcoming obstacles. While there’s always the focus on managing others’ expectations, I think it’s worthwhile taking a step back and understanding what you and your team’s expectations are as well.

It’s also important to remember that a large part of data and analytics is sharing, educating, selling new ways of doing things, and understanding the challenges. Just the other week, a data scientist on my team was working on a new project and said to me, “But what you’re asking is like a pre-sales showcase, not an in-depth platform.” My answer was, “Yes – we need to get more people on board before there’s going to be large-scale adoption.” Never forget that you’re asking people to change the way they work, take on a new skill, trust something they don’t fully understand. Winning them over will take time. That’s just the nature of what you’re doing. 

On the flip side – celebrate the wins, because while there may be challenges, you’re working on something exciting, driving change and creating more value for your business and customers. You’ve got to enjoy that!

Hopefully, with these tips I’ve succeeded in giving you a practical toolkit for overcoming your challenges. My core message is to not be afraid to get started, and be clear on what you’ll deliver. Use all your networks to understand the needs, and keep sharing what you’re doing. 

Finally, enjoy it – this is a challenging but very exciting area to work in! 

Are you interested in  learning more about the opportunities to help drive the data and digital agenda at Wesfarmers? Head to our careers page for our latest job openings.