• Share
  • Share
Image of city skyline in sepia tone

Bringing people and data together

Innovation leaders share how they’re helping people harness data to shape a better future.

Matt Marzillo | January 29, 2016

Data alone can’t change organizations, develop new products, fuel innovation, or deliver better services to customers—but people armed with data can. Slalom recently hosted a panel discussion with five innovation leaders who shared how to bring data and people together to drive meaningful changes and shape a better future.

Simplify and personalize data for users

Everyone in your organization should be able to access, understand, and use data quickly—from the data adverse to the data ninjas.

At AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company, Sandy Strauss is director of business intelligence and a master data democratizer. Strauss and her team designed and built simple dashboards that put data in the hands of everyone across AbbVie, revolutionizing the way the organization thinks about its future.

The dashboards track field interactions, enabling the business to better understand and improve its touch points with customers and track the performance of its staff. The work of Strauss’s team empowered the business to “make decisions based on data, not just intuition.”

We’re seeing the healthcare industry leverage data in new ways, too, with more and more companies borrowing consumer personalization techniques from the retail industry to better target patients. This begs the question: “Is there an “I” in healthcare?” Emily Borlik, managing director of Slalom's national healthcare practice, believes there is.

Borlik shared stories of healthcare companies that are creating more meaningful connections with customers through data. One example is ZocDoc, a company that connects providers with patients, enabling patients to search for doctors by insurance coverage, patient rating, and availability, and book appointments online.

Borlik believes that drawing inspiration from across industries is the best way for companies to develop patient-centric healthcare solutions—and it’s a necessity to stay competitive today and into the future. “Don’t think you have all the answers or that your peers have all the answers. Look to other industries,” says Borlik.

Strive to be better

Taking risks, owning the results—and more important, growing from those results—are core tenants of all successful people, whether it’s physicist Marie Curie or entrepreneur and engineer extraordinaire Elon Musk.

“Failure is a waypoint, not an endpoint.”

Nate Roberts, managing director at Slalom Chicago

Slalom’s Innovation & Insights practice found its identity in this principle: there are always ways to make a product better to meet the needs of its users.

Nate Roberts, managing director at Slalom Chicago, said it best: “failure is a waypoint, not an endpoint.” To illustrate his point, Roberts explained how his practice, along with a large US personal lines insurer, invested in a hackathon that brought together training specialists, customer service personnel, engineers, and developers to engage in collaborative computer programming.

The teams explored how the insurer could transform learning and training, developing the foundation for a virtual reality application that helped claims adjusters in real-world conditions through a controlled environment.

Humanize your data

Organizations need to be ingrained and invested in developing data solutions. Sometimes this means that people need to continuously test and help grow solutions, but other times, it means that the business (i.e., the people) must be the analytical solution.

Slalom’s founder, John Tobin, discussed how organizations are surveying employees and key stakeholders to crowdsource strategy decisions and help executives make better-informed organizational decisions. Tobin said that Slalom “can trace every initiative back to understand who came up with an idea or how an idea was amalgamated.”

While getting input from employees is nothing new, it’s often hard to quantify. Tobin outlined how, with the right applications and experience approach, Slalom has been able to help organizations—like Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities, for example—quantify organizational feedback to align on what matters and make strategic decisions.

Leverage real-time data to create more meaningful connections

Many organizations rely on historical data alone to make decisions. But organizations that are leading their industries use a combination of data, intuition, and other insights to predict what’s next and adjust behavior for the future.

Scott Morey, executive vice president at General Growth Properties (GGP), talked about how he’s using this combination of data and intuition in the brick-and-mortar retail space. One insight he shared was his discovery that 90% of retail sales come from brick-and-mortar stores vs. catalog and online sales.

Even more salient was his discussion about how GGP is acting as more than just a landlord to their retailers and becoming a strategic and innovative partner. GGP leverages sensor, consumer, and digital data to partner with retailers and help them better understand their customers' in-store shopping behaviors. One of the advantages of this approach is that it gives retailers the ability to adjust their in-store sales strategies based on real-time information.

GGP is utilizing digital analytics to become an integral part of the shopping experience, rather than the old-school approach of driving impulse buys. As Morey says, “This is not about changing behavior; this is about finding ways to use it to our advantage.” This enhances the shopping experience for customers and fosters deeper partnerships with retail cohorts. GGP is developing data products to become an important part of the shopping experience.

Get buy-in early

Making sure that data products are socialized with key stakeholders at the very beginning is crucial. Whether this means working directly with a group of customers or interfacing with internal users, it has to be done in an empathetic manner. Often times, the best way to get early buy-in is to use stakeholder input to develop applications.

“We have a process to build consensus and then incubate ideas.”

Sandy Strauss, director of business intelligence at AbbVie

AbbVie leadership highlighted key business users who were part of their dashboard rollout discussions from day one. “We have a process to build consensus and then incubate ideas,” says Strauss.

She explained that many great ideas have come from unexpected places, like Abbvie’s boots-on-the-ground sales force. These individuals helped AbbVie’s analytics group keep the end objectives in mind, and provided a solid initial foundation of stakeholders. The act of getting the data right paired with early socialization proved crucial in both vetting their data products and gaining momentum.

When products are released into the wild, it’s important that they are socialized appropriately to maximize end user buy-in. Ask these questions before releasing data products:

  • How is the organization structured?
  • How are decisions made?
  • Who makes these decisions?
  • Who are the key influencers?

Remember: people do things with data

Whether you’re using data to dispel common misconceptions of retail revenues, harnessing analytics to improve healthcare, or driving organizational strategy, remember: data doesn’t do things—people do things with data.

Emily Borlik is no longer with Slalom.

Matt Marzillo

Matt Marzillo is a consultant in Slalom Chicago’s Advanced Analytics practice. Follow him on Twitter: @MrMattMarz.


Start a conversation

What’s on your mind? Let’s explore the possibilities.