Staying afloat in the sea of data

by Apadmi|Mon Apr 03 2023

Staying afloat in the sea of data panelists

The volume, variety and complexity of data is challenging for any business to navigate. Apadmi’s latest panel gathered experts from a variety of organisations to share thoughts on how not to get lost at sea.

It was estimated that 79 Zetabytes of data was generated globally in 2021 (for context that’s 617 billion 128GB iPhones). More staggering still is that the number is expected to double by 2025.

Data is a huge topic - a brief search for data news, throws up everything from the battle for privacy, the heat from server farms contributing to global warming, data from doorbells monitoring the nation’s streets and calls that GDPR is failing…

It’s little wonder then that people might feel like they’re drowning.

But the aim of Apadmi’s latest panel event was not to exacerbate the feeling of being overwhelmed, but rather to have a frank conversation about how data is being used in different organisations and hopefully come away with some useful thoughts on how to keep your head above water.

The panel included data experts from multinational FMCG business Kellogg, UK retail giant Co-op and HACE, a data-driven start-up striving to eradicate child labour. The the aim was to provide a variety of perspectives alongside useful learnings.

The full session can be viewed here, but here are some highlights:

You need a team, but what shape?

“Getting the right people in place is really important,” says Eleanor Harry, CEO and founder of HACE. “The way we approach data and extraction is with social scientists and we’ve created some technology which empowers people who can’t code and provides more of an ethical standpoint in being able to identify what is and isn’t important.

“It’s all well and good writing a piece of script which can extract every piece of data out of a census, but is that useful? Certainly social scientists are the best type of people to make those decisions. Something that’s true in all organisations is having a multidisciplinary team looking at data, and not always having the same type of people in the room (a blend of technical and non technical) is critical to telling the right story and being able to make the right decisions as a result.”

Setting expectations at the outset

“Having the right tools is one thing, but you also have to be clear about what you’re setting out to do at the beginning,” says Apadmi CTO and co-founder Adam Fleming. “Whether you’re trying to prove something is true, or whether you’re trying to find something which you haven’t seen but suspect is in the data, then you can quickly get lost at sea (pun intended) if you haven’t set the right hypothesis at the start. But you also have to understand when you’ve got there, because often you can sail right past without knowing.”

A cultural approach to data

The culture at Kellogg is brilliant and it’s why I’ve stayed there so long. But from a culture perspective in terms of being data driven, it’s a different shift and it’s really not easy,” says Loretta Franks, Chief data and analytics officer at Kellogg. “People are the fundamental factor in making any shift. We’re looking at a lot of different ideas around capability building because we’ve got a real variety in terms of maturity around the regions. We’ve got some people that would just love a fully automated report, all the way to some quite advanced analytics.

“So I think trying to navigate through that and helping everyone to shift forward is a challenge, especially when you’re in an industry (like FMCG) where you feel like everyone is going faster than you are. It can be quite scary. When you actually speak to other folks in the industry, everyone is struggling with the same issues, but the perception is that we’re behind and we’ve got to speed up and that in itself creates a panic and culture that people back away from. I don’t think we’ve solved that, but we’ve got a fantastic foundation and we’ve got to create a step change we’ve got to do it faster.”

Tell the story little and often

“You need to be focused on the outcome,” explains Head of Digital Technology Performance at Co-op, Charles Howell-Morley. “So for funeral care it should be about saying goodbye to your loved one in the best way possible. For retail it should be about convenience. If you focus on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, then the data can help you to get there.”

“You need to be consistent with the stories you’re telling and tell them in the right way. There’s an analogy we use about being more dolphin than whale - dolphins come up for air a lot, whereas whales come up infrequently and with big explosions of air. So tell parts of the story frequently over a longer period of time, rather than a blow out with a big update which can make people more nervous.”

Can you handle the truth?

“There is never one version of the truth,” explains Eleanor. “Numbers lie all the time, just like words do. It’s about how you build an ethical framework around decision making based on what is and isn’t true. We use qualitative data to back up analytical findings, but you have to accept that there will always be different versions and then find ways to navigate that.”

“Timing is also important,” adds Loretta. “You have to pick a version of the truth given the data you have and what you know at the time. And if that changes, then you’ve got to be prepared to change direction. There can be different versions of the truth at a particular point, but I’m more about finding the direction you want to go in at that time. It can always change if new data comes in and you have to be OK with that.”

The final word on truth from Adam: “Data has a finite element attached to it. It is telling you something. How much interpretation you put on top of that is when you start tip-toeing into whether it reflects the truth or implies something else. Data in its purest sense is true, you just may or may not understand the context.”

Watch the full, fascinating discussion below.

Watch video

And if you need help better understanding the data in your business or digital product, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us today.

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