Michael Brennan|December 14, 2020

View the webinar here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Profusion webinar last week. Thanks again to our excellent panellists, Caroline Harrison, Head of Marketing. HSBC, Matt Isherwood, Managing Director, Fuse (Mission), and Alistair Dent, Strategy Officer, Profusion.  

Researching the relationship between data and decision making has been fascinating – and goes a very long way to explaining why so many organisations are struggling to see the return on their analytics investments. 

Our opening presentation covered a broad terrain including the immediate pandemic context, within which organisations are having to make a vast array of operational decisions, the importance of agility (and the cachet attached to the pivot), the role of intuition, the size, composition and location of the decision making unit, the importance of data literacy, and the value of a design thinking approach. 

One of the opening slides showcased the John Hopkins University Covid dashboard. Almost certainly the most famous dashboard in the world (ever) it has been a boon to global data literacy – as we all look to dig into the data and better understand what is happening in our regions and nations. What the dashboard can’t provide of course are the human stories that lie behind the data. 

But in understanding the relationship between data and decision making the real value came from our panel discussion, with Caroline Harrison, Head of Marketing, HSBC, emphasising the critical importance of investing time and resource into building robust data foundations. 

While marketers may naturally be drawn to the creative and glamorous aspects of advertising it is critical that today’s teams have the right mix of skills and experience. Caroline went on to advise legacy businesses looking to grow their data capabilities and culture that this should start with hiring the best talent – numerate and comfortable with data. 

Where this isn’t immediately possible, especially given the current economic situation, there is of course the option to upskill and educate existing employees through the Profusion Data Academy! 

Equally important was the insight that Caroline provided into how data and agile methodologies transform the role of the leader – by reducing the volume of decisions to be made – with Caroline reflecting that this inverted relationship between seniority and decision making can feel daunting. 

Devolving decision making in this way demands new skills of leaders, but also places a premium on data quality, accessibility, and literacy. As such we can argue that organisational agility is ultimately dependant on appropriate investment in robust data foundations. 

Alistair Dent and Matt Isherwood also highlighted the importance of giving teams space and time to experiment and to explore. For Alistair, this can be as simple as ensuring that tests are excluded from team or individual targets, while Matt, from a new product and innovation perspective, emphasised that most new projects tend to land in a  place that no-one envisaged at the outset. We should therefore be equipping our teams with the right tools and frameworks to develop their thinking for themselves. 

And marketers tend to be an opinionated bunch, rarely short of an idea or suggestion. Much of the terrain can be highly subjective and it can be tough to reach a genuine consensus. This is further complicated when external agencies are involved. Yet, where an organisation has robust, quality, data in place it is possible to cut through these debates and drive decisions forward on an objective, analytical, basis. 

Caroline Harrison shared how this works in practice, highlighting the benefits of data sharing with external agencies, ensuring that everyone can see the same data and therefore the rationale for decisions made. 

Alistair provided another great recommendation for legacy organisations arguing that they should adopt a mindset such that a dashboard is never finished. We should assume that our dashboards are in ‘a constant state of development’ – with Alistair alluding to the dangers of working to optimise dashboard metrics rather than focusing on underlying drivers of value. That insight speaks to the importance of ensuring that we really are measuring what matters. 

Finally, Matt Isherwood, closely involved with the development of the Pathfindr Safe Distancing Assistant, emphasised the importance of qualitative insight to complement our data, as part of a broader point around demystification and the simplicity of gathering useful data. 

Customer conversations, for example, are a critical source of qualitative insight and can be a key influence on organisational priorities. In the case of Pathfindr such conversations led to the exploration and testing of new technologies that ultimately informed the Safe Distancing Assistant proposition. Customer surveys can then help us to understand the scale of the challenge or opportunity identified through individual conversations. 

Therefore, just as we saw that successful organisational agility is dependent upon robust data foundations, so the organisational pivot is also dependant upon strong foundations, constant dialogue with customers and partners, horizon scanning for new technologies and possibilities, and empowered teams with the space to experiment and innovate. 

Ultimately then, within an hour of presentation and discussion, we identified a huge range of factors to consider in building a positive data culture, but for all of the behavioural and cultural elements, we should never lose sight of the importance of robust data foundations and a laser-sharp focus on data quality. 

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