How is it that digital titans from Netflix to Deliveroo can respond so quickly to customers’ changing needs and grow so fast? The answer lies in how they make use of the data generated inside their own business. Rather than treating it as an overhead – i.e., as a source of cost and risk – these highly innovative companies treat their data as an asset. They focus on deriving the greatest value from it – just as they might manage assets like intellectual property, buildings, or investments.
Today UK businesses have a golden opportunity to emulate that model and claim their share of the data dividend. Indeed, there’s growing evidence that British companies are investing in building up their digital capabilities. In September, Accenture’s Tech Talent Tracker found that the most advertised tech skills in the UK are in data analytics and cloud computing.
There’s little doubt that the pandemic has accelerated UK PLC’s digital transformation. At its onset, firms had to embrace virtual working and digital commerce practically overnight, in the process, learning to use muscles they didn’t know they had.
At the same time, our collective embrace of all things digital in our everyday lives has in turn unleashed a torrent of data. Every choice, every interaction, every stage on a customer journey, captured inside digital systems. As a result, businesses which two years ago might never have seen themselves as tech-driven transformers, now find themselves sitting on rich seams of valuable insights about themselves and their customers.
Their challenge is finding ways to surface these insights and unlock the value they contain.
Commentators often compare business data to crude oil. Unrefined, it has little to offer. Figure out how to refine it into insights – near- and real-time actionable facts about your business – and there’s a fortune to be made. Here, though, the oil analogy falls short: while oil refineries do the job of transforming crude into fuels and other useful materials, businesses must figure out how to refine their data for themselves.
Here are three key guiding principles which we see leading insights-driven businesses following:
- Put your data where it can be easily refined. The heavy-duty analysis needed to refine crude business data into actionable insights is superpowered by the cloud. But recent Accenture research has found that only about a third of UK business computing happens in the cloud, with the rest – 65 percent – still running on machines in corporate datacentres. Moving more of the business, and the data it generates, into the cloud is the vital first step in every data-led transformation journey.
- Build “data fluency” across your organisation. Deriving value from data doesn’t just need technology, it needs talent as well. Data architects, engineers, machine learning specialists and user experience designers all have a key role to play. But this isn’t just about “hard” tech skills like data science and analysis – “soft” skills are equally important. Truly data fluent teams can think laterally about how to use insights and technology to solve business problems. More importantly, they are led by managers who give them the latitude to experiment, and who are prepared to “fail fast.”
- Place responsibility at the heart of your data strategy – in other words, be mindful about how you mine and use data, and focus on the areas where your and your customers’ priorities overlap. Beware of chasing “fast bucks”: during the disruption of the pandemic customers shared their personal data out of necessity to access goods and services. As necessity wanes, they will increasingly expect a fair (and responsible) return. Those organisations using customer data in ways that provide the services and address the concerns that matter most to customers will be those that enjoy the highest levels of trust and loyalty.
As we look ahead to post-pandemic opportunities, we encourage business leaders to be bold in their ambitions, flex those new transformation muscles, and lead with data. It is the renewable energy source that can power businesses into an exciting future. By using data and insights responsibly British businesses can achieve lasting transformation – to the benefit of customers, employees, shareholders, and the environment.
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