REPL Group: Why businesses need data science to unlock productivity
Ten years ago, we thought of productivity purely in terms of inputs and outputs. However, as information becomes even cheaper to store, businesses are inevitably moving from lakes to oceans of data. Data science is the key here to helping them understand productivity by unlocking the detail in their data. Data science is being used to great effect within the online retail sector, as such, it’s high time businesses followed suit and begin to look at how they can use data to improve productivity.
What is data science?
Data science is about more than crunching big data sets. It’s a combination of smart analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence that “bring data to life in a hypothesis-driven approach”. Within the retail sector, data is frequently being used to inform decision making. From forecasting stock, category trends and loyalty promotions to sending customers tailored vouchers aligned to their shopping habits. We’re also seeing the emergence of data science being used successfully in workforce management, which could also be beneficial within businesses more widely.
Gaining insights from data
The amount of data businesses have differs greatly, but where businesses do have relevant data, they often find themselves unable to leverage the true value of the information. Publicly available data, such as weather or traffic, for instance, could be combined with existing internal data to improve forecasting by identifying any potential external impacts on the business. With millions of rows of data available, a single spreadsheet is unable to capture the whole picture. Businesses therefore need to look for an alternative way to store and analyse data - and that’s where data science comes in.
Instead of splitting data across multiple spreadsheets, data science uses powerful computing technology to look for patterns across and throughout the data lake. This means analysis takes place using every piece of data the company has in its entirety. With millions of items of data in one place, data science will enable businesses to unlock new perspectives into productivity and generate real value from their data. In the retail sector we are seeing the effective use of data science within the following areas:
Without data science, retailers can end up with a lost opportunity: they may have too few staff members to cope with demand or could end up overstaffed. But add detailed, automated large-scale data analysis to the operational mix and leaders will understand exactly what’s happening and prescribe a data-driven solution. One example is to use data science to understand which employees work well together, based not on manager observations but by looking for patterns where pairings are most productive and offer the best levels of customer service. The system then uses this insight to create optimal schedules that control cost while maximising productivity and customer support. This is something other businesses could also benefit from, particularly in shift-work within call centres or in factories in the manufacturing industry, for example, or even when restructuring teams. It is also something that could benefit healthcare institutions with rostering, helping them to detect who works best at what time of day and alongside which individuals.
The pursuit of profit
Data science can also be used to solve broad problems, like profitability. By understanding which operational activities contribute to surpluses, it’s possible to build a performance management framework so business owners can focus on these areas. This is accomplished by reviewing the entire makeup and impact of a decision and interpreting historical data, like sales, profit and revenue, and then looking for links that might not necessarily be obvious. With deep learning and data analysis, data science can predict the outcomes of different decisions.
When the optimal decision is identified – one that will help maximise revenue and minimise cost – the result is presented to leaders. With the evidence to support the recommendation, data-driven decisions can be taken with confidence.
An exciting opportunity
Data science has outgrown the lab and now informs real-life applications and decision making. As we’ve seen from the retail sector, data science can do wonders for unlocking productivity and has helped retailers get the most from the staff by providing the intelligent insights that just can’t be gained without data science. With the development of integrated systems that will enhance collective thinking, it’s anyone’s guess where this powerful new technology could take us in the future.
As the power of data science becomes increasingly apparent, this presents an exciting opportunity for businesses to gain real value from their data and use it to further their business not only in terms of productivity but potentially also in terms of profitability. The sooner businesses begin to take advantage of this, the sooner they and their workforces will begin to reap the rewards.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.