Ask better questions to get the most out of data analytics

As data becomes more crucial to making business decision, experts crunching the numbers are asking retailers to come up with better questions if they want insightful answers.

More and more retailers are creating teams of data scientists and analytics to mine data to better understand the business, but those data experts are asking retailers to think harder about the questions they want to ask of the available data.

Retail’s data elite attended a Big Data and Analytics Retail event in London this week and as the two-day conference wore on, it was clear that the data teams do not always see eye to eye with the rest of the business

I have seen this trend with IT and marketing in the past, where marketers ask for whiz-bang digital projects to be delivered immediately, without understanding the strain that puts IT under. But this data misunderstanding seems to be the opposite, where data teams do not think the rest of the business is taking advantage of the knowledge available, and are not asking the right questions.

A retailer’s product team would typically ask for insight from data analytics, but Laura Payne, commercial and operations manager of the Post Office’s customer analytics department, said they often ask the wrong questions.

“Data is just numbers, insight is where it starts to get interesting. A product team’s expertise is not in data or insight, but they know their business goals,” explained Payne. “Tell us those goals and we’ll go and work out our insight and provide an activation plan for the next year.”

Payne said a lot of retailers need to be educated to get the most out of data and to create a partnership with the analytics team rather than just expecting them to “serve up data and numbers”.

“We need to probe and push people to ask the right questions – is your question a business need or a knowledge gap which you could actually fill yourselves?”

She said data teams also need to present their insight and answers in a digestible manner – in other words, not in an endless PowerPoints full of confusing graphs.

“We need to be creating a super-simple chart: the question, the answer and what needs to be done next,” added Payne.

“It’s almost a requirement to show the clients how clever we are. There’s no point in a 50-slide deck when the last five are important and people have already lost the will to live.”

Payne said there’s no need for data analysts to show off. “Retailers think: ‘It’s fine we know how clever you are, that’s why we employ you’.”

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