I spent some time with Kyle understanding the roles he's had, what he's focused on currently and what he'll be covering at the Forums.
Kyle, can you please give us an introduction into yourself and your role at Costco?
My role with Costco was to build an Advanced Analytics team to build decision support. I built the team capabilities from a focus on descriptive ad hoc analytics to strategic predictive modeling and prescriptive insights. My current role with Aimia is Director of Analytics and Measurement. In this role I am focused on building a team with the capabilities to deliver actionable insights to our customers quickly. Helping our customers react to changes in their customer base buying patterns quickly will help them to respond in the most effective way with the hope of strengthening that relationship.
Perhaps you can give us a brief history of the journey Costco has taken in terms of data analytics. South African/Middle Eastern companies are, generally, at the very beginning of their journey into data analytics and it would be valuable to understand what they’re likely to face
I think the journey at Costco was similar to most companies investing in analytics hoping to gain a competitive advantage. Most of our reporting had been in Excel with some conditional formatting to make the most important details stand out. We moved to dashboards that help our users see bigger trends and consume data much easier. This helped speed up decisions and raised the quality of those decisions. We also started increasing our predictive modeling practice through which we were able to show some very good ROI, this gave the program great traction with the executive team.
Most people assume that companies in the US are at a very mature stage of data analytics. Is this the true reality or is there still work to be done?
I have attended many conferences talking to many people representing their companies analytics programs here’s what I learned. Each industry seems to be at a different level of maturity with their programs. For instance banking and insurance rely heavily on risk analysis so they are at what I would call a high level of analytics maturity. Their business depends on getting this right. Other sectors like retail are in a highly competitive market and are at mixed levels of maturity. Costco was an industry laggard in analytics but I feel like we brought them up to the middle of the pack where Costco is comfortable being positioned. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target are on the cutting edge of analytics in retail and are receiving the benefits.
What we’ve found is that South African/Middle Eastern companies face very similar challenges to data & analytics professionals in other markets Corinium works in. What do you feel are the 3 biggest challenges companies in the US face with regards to data analytics?
The first and most significant challenge I ran into was receiving executive buy in. Costco is a successful company which I believe makes change more difficult. Sure analytics might help me but I’m doing really well so why do I need analytics to help my decision making? Getting the point across that we are trying to help them be more successful , not replace their industry knowledge with a machine was key. Second is gaining the approval to hire the people and then finding the people with the right skills. Third is assessing the right tolls for the organizations level of maturity and winning purchasing approval.
Your case study/discussion group and workshop at CAO Forum Africa/Data & Analytics Leaders Forum UAE is centered around building organizational trust in analytics. Can you expand on how you achieved this at Costco and other companies you’ve worked at?
I believe the key is getting to know your executives and really understand the Key Performance Indicators they are tasked to deliver on for the company. For instance if marketing has a goal to reduce customer churn how can we deliver insights that can help them achieve higher KPI’s? In this example we were able to do a much more accurate churn analysis report, pair it with Member Lifetime Value analysis, and come up with a marketing list they could take action on to be more successful. I also worked on HR analytics for a shoe / apparel company to address the problem of employee turnover in their call center. By utilizing analytics we were able to find the greatest cause for turnover and build a program to address it. This lowered the turnover percentage by almost 5 percent and built trust in the analytics program.
What can attendees expect to takeaway from your workshop? What are the ‘actionable insights?’
My hope would be that those attending the workshop walk away with ideas for how they can build more support from their executives to build a robust analytics program in their company. The actionable insights will come from many case studies that I have built from building several successful analytics programs. I hope to have some great discussions around problems they are facing in their own programs so we can discuss possible solutions together.
By Craig Steward