How to navigate the data analytics path

ADMA Global Forum panel including representatives from Qantas, Brambles, Energy Australia and Deloitte debate how to successfully adopt data analytics as a marketing and organisational competitive advantage

Data analytics is critical for organisations but your efforts will fail if you don’t first understand what customer gap or commercial pain point you’re trying to overcome, several Australian brands claim.

In a panel session at the recent Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) Global Forum in Sydney, advisory group, Deloitte, along with representatives from Brambles, Qantas and Energy Australia, came together to discuss their use of data analytics and tips for how organisations can get started successfully on an analytics journey.

While there is a lot of intent around the use of analytics as a strategic business contributor, the truth is it isn’t that easy to execute, Deloitte partner, Jenny Wilson, told the audience.

“It’s not just the capabilities that are different, it gets down to foundations like leadership, culture, and where you do you start,” she said. “Sometimes data feels like the elephant in the room.”

Brambles group vice-president of strategy, planning and innovation, Paul McGlone, said data analytics is crucial today to the critical effectiveness of its commercial business model. “In order for us to control this ever-moving equipment business that operates in so many locations, so many people and on an ongoing basis, we need to deeply understand what’s going on,” he said.

McGlone pointed out the data mandate is easier to come by today, as boards are aware of big data and are asking questions about what we’re doing with information assets.

Video: ADMA Global Forum 2013 round-up

“If you don’t have a mandate, but have insights, you can still get involves in analytics in a sophisticated way, but you have to be careful to have a process that allows you to fail fast and fail cheap,” he said. “Be really careful about process that underpins the level of investment and risk. If you do that, you can iterate and change tack to generate insights quickly.

“This is not about a technology or IT tool, this is a process driven by commercial outcomes,” McGlone added.

Qantas Loyalty CEO, Lesley Grant, said data analytics underpins how the airline understands its customers. The Loyalty team provides analytics insights across the organisation around how customers interact across its Qantas and Jetstar brands to drive better customer experience.

However, Grant admitted to being involved in a number of failed data analytics projects over the years that became “bigger than Ben Hur” and actually proved nothing.

“One of the problems is that these efforts weren’t focused on solving the business problem,” she said. For Grant, a good way to start is to think of the gaps you have in understanding customer behaviour.

“Start small and solve a business problem so you get runs on the board and can prove to the organisation that this is really adding value,” she advised. “Otherwise you can put in an awful lot of effort and resourcing and not deliver a measurable outcome.

“You need to look for clues first – what is the business measuring and where are the gaps in our knowledge, what business problems are we trying to solve.”

To ensure analytics is put to practical use, Qantas Loyalty has appointed commercial managers leading the analytics teams, Grant added.

Energy Australia head of marketing, David Hamilton, said data analytics is helping the utility company as it goes through a dramatic industry revolution triggered by the introduction of smart metering, a more complex retail environment, and changing customer needs.

“Our business model has traditionally been centralised, mass scale utility provision of power or gas. That is being challenged by technology, customer behaviour and a number of other factors driving consumer choices,” he explained. “That’s where marketing and insights works in meeting those challenges.”

The degree to which you have personal courage is critical in a data analytics journey, Hamilton said. “Leadership is as important as the analytics,” he said. In addition, he advocated an approach that favoured usefulness over historical insight.

“Data isn’t there to meet the needs of the analysts, it’s there to serve the needs of the business,” Hamilton said. “You need the people to translate that insight and engage with the business to ensure what they produce is relevant for the objectives and vision the business is trying to achieve.”

For McGlone, getting external advice allowed the Brambles team to access deeper technical knowledge and achieve insights quicker. “It doesn’t have to be a $1 million project either,” he said. “Start very small on one insight with a partner, then move forward from there."

Hamilton also supported bringing on partners at the early stage, but stressed the need to build an internal skill base long-term.

“There are people in your organisation who have skills you don’t know about,” he said. “As you bring on the people, you insource capability long-term. You shouldn’t outsource things that are a source of competitive advantage, as data analytics is.”

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