LAS VEGAS — Companies wanting to drive their businesses forward with data need to consider culture as much as technology, panelists at a Groceryshop session said Sept. 17.

The panel included Chris Adams, vice president of category management services for Retail Business Services, the parent company of which is retailer Ahold Delhaize. One point made by Adams and others was that data has to be approached with specific goals in mind, and its contribution toward those goals needs to be communicated regularly.

“Breaking down those silos, creating visibility, to me is kind of one of the foundational pieces,” Adams said, adding that different members of the analytics team present monthly to other company employees about their work. “There’s so much on people’s plates, and so many things that are going on, so trying to keep that open flow of communication is key.”

Getting leadership and others on board with data really comes down to showing those people how the insights generated can make their lives easier, Adams said. With that in mind, employees should make those outcomes the focus when they discuss suggestions that are the result of analytics.

“What your data scientists, what your analytic experts can dig into for the level of detail, what they’re going to go after, is very different than what should be probably the two- or three-slide version that’s going out as the recommendation,” Adams said. “The executive leadership wants to know that someone did that due diligence behind it; they probably don’t want to know the p values, the regression, all the detailed pages and pages of numbers.

“The ability to really storytell with data, to translate between analytics and kind of the business effects ... If they’re seeing that truly those actionable insights are going to drive value, they’re going to buy into it,” Adams said.

Gabe Mattingly, general manager of e-commerce and digital for The Nature’s Bounty Co., made a similar observation.

“One of the things we really focus on is crafting narratives around this, so what was the challenge, what did we learn, and what were the insights or action that we drove out of it,” Mattingly said. “Crafting that narrative arc becomes really important because that starts to build trust and allow people to see that change is real.”


Pursuit of perfection

Another topic the panel discussed was the level of certainty that is needed to take action based on data.

Mattingly noted that, while perfect data would be the ideal situation, that usually is not the case.

“With the evolution of these spaces you’re going to end up with data that’s imperfect, so are you able and willing to take a risk on action and favoring pace over certainty with data?” Mattingly said. “If you are, well then that can unlock a ton of opportunities for you to leverage even imperfect data to move forward, but you have to call it out and be transparent about it as opposed to waiting for this perfect scenario where data is beautiful with rainbows and gumdrops and unicorns and everything because it’s not going to happen.

“You have to favor that ability to move fast, even with imperfect data,” Mattingly said.

Adams added that the level of data accuracy needed will vary depending on what questions the data is expected to answer. What would be sufficient for a pilot project with a few stores would probably not be adequate for a multi-billion dollar capital investment.


Looking ahead

Justin Honaman, vice president of analytics, data and digital transformation for Georgia-Pacific, said cybersecurity is component that companies need to take into account as they are building out their data capabilities.

“It’s one of the areas I think most companies are behind on and don’t know they’re behind, and they won’t know they’re behind until they have a breach or they find someone has been in their systems, and the challenge there is trying to solve all that” despite the fact large businesses often have different systems managing different functions, Honaman said.

Adams suggested that another element that will be critical to future success with data is ease of use.

“The people and the organizations that are really going to stand out, really make the difference, are the ones that make it simple,” Adams said. “The less time it takes, the more frictionless it is — it’s something that people are expecting more and more in their day-to-day life as technology enables some of that, and they’re also expecting to see that in their work life.


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