Big data analytics can transform how businesses operate. While marketing and sales businesses cottoned on to this early, more and more previously non-tech-focused companies are realising the benefit of having expertise on board.
“The way you can use data is a way not just to understand customers and products better, but also be organised in a way that makes decision-making faster and allows people to have more autonomy,” says Anthony Fletcher, chief executive of snack company Graze.
Graze has its own dedicated data team, who “democratise data”. Mr Fletcher says: “This involves finding sources of data, cleaning and feeding it into our central cloud-based data warehouse where anyone can access it anywhere, on a variety of devices.
“This tracks literally thousands of different data sources from how fast our factory lines are running, the strategies for posting boxes in the US, 15,000 pieces of product feedback we get an hour, social data, trends in sales, how people are using our mobile site, and so on.”
The data scientists at Graze are also skilled at doing pieces of complex data analysis from attribution, A/B tests, machine-learning or various types of regression. “This often involves not only maths, but being really good at visualising data in ways which really tell the story,” says Mr Fletcher.
Some companies position their data team in different ways. At Graze it reports to the chief executive. “This was highly unusual, but reflected the efforts of building the original infrastructure and creating the right culture around data,” says Mr Fletcher. “The important thing today is they are a team who work across the business. This tends to be a draw for data scientists here as they get to solve so many different types of problems.”
James Parsons, chief executive of digital workforce and consultancy Arrows Group, says: “Data scientists are the rocket scientists of the digital world and the role of the chief data scientist (CDS) is emerging as the influence of data spreads horizontally across business functions.”
A company’s digital capability generally has three pillars, Mr Parsons explains, and the role of the CDS differs from the job of the chief information officer in relation to these three. “The IT infrastructures – platforms and tools – as well as the processes and methodologies – agile development practices – come under the jurisdiction of the chief information officer (CIO).