Is your Business Data Centric, or a Data Also-Ran?

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Home > Articles > Is your Business Data Centric, or a Data Also-Ran?

 Is your Business Data Centric, or a Data Also-Ran?

Ian Shepherd | Today's Manager
March 1, 2021
​​Ian Shepherd, author of The Average is Always Wrong, explores the critical topic of business data.

Data and analytics represent the most uneven playing field in business. Newer online start-ups, often founded by data scientists, are built with customer data already embedded throughout and run a continuous improvement cycle using customer and operational data to seek cost reduction and profit enhancement opportunities.

Constantly running tests and experiments designed to generate yet more data (showing different customers
ever so slightly different Web pages to see which one generates more clicks, for example), these analysis-rich businesses operate on a ‘champion/challenger’ basis where each part of the operation is constantly challenged to find a better or more efficient variant, which then becomes the new standard practice.

As well as chasing these continuous improvement opportunities, these businesses will use data analytics to ask bigger questions too—looking for new products and services to launch, or new customer pain points in adjacent industries that they can profitably solve.

he leadership team in these businesses is well used to this data driven change. The business is always evolving, and even the most traditional and operational teams take pride in their understanding of analytics and the core Information Technology (IT) systems are modern and engineered from the ground up to allow tests and experiments and to facilitate change.

Small wonder, then, that the rest of us find this so terrifying.

The established business that these digital upstarts are competing with could not look more different. Burdened with last-generation inflexible IT systems, led by middle and senior leaders with little experience of data analytics and selling most products through anonymous transactions that generate precious little customer data to analyse anyway.

These established businesses make most of their key decisions the way they always have. Decisions about opening new stores, or which products to buy and sell, or how to price products and when to go on promotion are made, though done with some spreadsheets of numbers, but
essentially using instinct and the organisation’s memory of what has worked in the past.

If that depressing description sounds familiar, then take comfort from the fact that there is an alternative vision of the future for your busi
ness. The reality is that it does not have to be that way. There are many terrific examples around the world of big consumer businesses transforming themselves and their data analytics capabilities. Indeed, many of the pioneers of loyalty programmes, mass personalisation of customer communication, and machine-generated micro-segments of customers have been long established retail and technology brands.

What does it take for your business to join their ranks, embrace data-centricity, and take the upstarts on at their own game?

It takes a leadership team familiar with what data can do, comfortable with the kind of questions that analysis can help with and excited about the changes to the business that might come about as a result.

In other words, what separates businesses that really embrace the power of data from those who don’t is not technology, mathematical skills, or even the ability to hire great data scientists. What really marks out those who make it are the culture, values, and attitudes of the leadership team. Fear of change, the rejection of the new, and the reluctance to go on the personal development journey that data centricity requires of established business leaders are all potentially fatal.

Becoming a data centric business will mean challenging all of that. It will mean embracing change at every l
evel in the business and across every function. Everything from the obvious changes in technology infrastructure to far more subtle changes in financial evaluation processes and HR training programmes will need to be reinvented.

And yes, along the way you’ll need to build some data science capabilities, gather some data, ask some ambitious questions of that data, and leap into action based on the answers to those questions.

The alternative does not bear thinking about. But the prize on offer for businesses that really put data at their heart, build their brands around customer lifetime value, and become change-leaders in their sectors can be huge. 


Ian Shepherd is a CEO and CMO who has held senior roles in a range of world-class consumer brands over the last 25 years including Sky, Vodafone, Game, and Odeon. Ian has launched loyalty programmes, built new digital revenue streams for traditional retailers, and turned declining market share into stellar growth—all based on a keen practical understanding of the consumer and of the power of data and customer insight.

Get your copy of Mr Shepherd’s book The Average is Always Wrong.


Copyright © 2021 Singapore Institute of Management

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