Data Enthusiasts Gathering At Superweek
Last February I attended Superweek Hungary to give a presentation on data analysis and learn from other industry peers about what they have been working on; there were many insightful presentations on business, data quality, privacy, and hard core analytics. It was an enriching experience and, as I mentioned in the video below, I really liked the fact that we had plenty of opportunities to have deep conversations with experts and newbies alike; not to mention the snow!
Below is the official video of the conference, where some of the presenters talk about the industry challenges, opportunities and most important aspects. Below the video are a few selected quotes, in case you like reading. And if you like the discussion… check out Superweek Jamaica!
I think there is an approach taken up by the government where the tendency is to protect the current incumbance. To rule out of the people, not allow them to do things or overtax them or completely ban them or things like that. I think that is one tendency that limits the imagination of the people in the country who are actually innovative, risk taking and gonna do cool things. But this tendency to be very protective of what is there today – actually stops progress, and I see this in so many countries. And I’m quite sad about it.
The other model that I see is that government takes a role of almost becoming an incubator of new ideas. Incubator of new things. Our friends in Singapore do that very well. I know that Google has a gigantic building they opened up in London, where people come and work for free and what not… And what Google is doing: actually we have the privilege to have some money and we’ll be the incubator that allows innovation to florish. And some of those people in that incubator are competitive to Google. And it’s OK. It’s OK, right? And they’re not saying let’s figure out how to just protect what we have. Country X: let’s protect the people still running newspapers. Or country Y: let’s protect the people who did X, Y or Z. I think that protective tendency comes in because sometimes these industrial players are very well connected politically and the politicians don’t necessarily understand everything that is happening in the space. Your role as a government is to incubate ideas, and what do you do to incubate ideas?
Initially web analytics was a very technical function. It was very IT driven. And eventually marketers found out that they could have nice reports on their own in pie charts, with plenty of cards, you know it was cool, I don’t have to talk to the IT anymore, I can get my nice own reports whenever I want. And it worked for a while. Marketers were able to optimize the traffic and those aspects but now it is going far beyond that. And it is about optimizing the whole business. And the business is not only marketing.
We’re on a path to a collision between the way marketers see analytics, and the reality that there are business intelligence people, and they are other people in the, um, like data scientists people for example, um, that are coming and there will be collision at some point, right?! So how effectively organisations are going to be able to calibrate their teams so they can work end to end, and not do as it was marketing and IT were almost like two different worlds. It can’t stay that way.
Once we get over that, then everybody listens to us, we can help the company, we can get more budget, we can get more tools, we can get more people, but as long as we remain inside the Excel spreadsheet, it remains a problem. And that seems to be the biggest threat to me.
You don’t want to measure sales, you don’t want to measure how many people like you, that doesn’t help you. But if you’re just trying to gain awareness, ah, OK, you can measure that, if you want to gain to measure how impactful your messages: OK, that’s good. If you want to measure whether your activity on social media has an impact on how people perceive the company, are you changing branding in the minds of the public: yeah, you can do that. Can you make sales? In some cases with some products toward some target market for particular promotion: sure, but that is not a strategy.
So much effort goes into implementing and instrumenting the methods to collect data. What I really hope is that becomes largely unnecessary because all of the frameworks for all this technology have inherent data layers or data capture or data vocabulary built into them. And we see that some already with certain content management systems there are some content management systems that will render a Google Tag Manager compliant data-layer – just click a button and it just speaks data-layer. Well imagine if core technologies that were being deployed and all these different environments spoke data layer – then we can just put some software on top of it that reads that and send it on to it needs to go, that would be amazing for the industry and would help us move from lots of work building the house and maintaining it to actually using and living in it doing analysis of the day which is really where the value comes from.
The traditional challenge we always had is our role is thought of as just reporting squirrels and people who puke data out – a bunch of it is the fault of our bosses, they have low expectation of us, but it is also a fault of our own, because we’re so obsessed about these things. I still think that this is a very big problem for the industry and that is an inward looking problem, we created it and we need to solve it. That’s why this morning in my keynote I talked so much about it. Moving away from a reporting squirrel to an analysis ninja. I think this is a big challenge. You and I need to go address it and every analyst needs to address it.
I think that we are moving into a new era where the technology is evolving and is actually gonna be able to play hand and more that knowledge layer. Not just saying here’s the data, but saying here’s the data and here’s some of what it means. It is so gonna be up to us to decide to act on it but I think there’s gonna be more automation technology that will push the people higher up in the hierarchy and make the process faster to get to ultimately: here’s an insight, take an action on it, deliver some value.
Using artificial intelligence to do a lot of the groundwork, the shovel work that we’re doing now. The machine can do more and more of it so that we can use our human capabilities better instead of spending so much time on data collection and data cleaning and data migration. There’s a lot that can be automated.
We will still need to look over the shoulder of the machine and decide whether the insights that it is presenting to us have any value or not. And we are the ones who will have to decide to take the risk: do we make the investment in this sort of marketing or that sort of marketing, based on what the machine tells us.
For example I work in a digital media agency and what do we see? We see that, you know, through automatization, through clients doing it themselves, and all the trends in the margins are squeezing so we need to be able to do programmatic, we need to automatize our work in order to be more efficient. Otherwise we’re dead.
Everybody thinks: oh yeah, I’m gonna build a team and I’ve spoken with some people here at the conference, and there are also owners of agencies setting up a department of analytics and they all tell me the same: it’s a struggle to hire people; not just qualified but at least with potential, you know, because we can train them, finding the persons is really hard to.
And also one of the things that is hard is to keep them. You need to feed them not with food but with challenges, with new things. Now if you put your people to do the same thing over and over again don’t expect them to be there, you know, forever. I’ve seen many agencies that all of a sudden lose big part of their employees in analytics and they struggle.
I hear different colleagues find something that they’re passionate about and that they are expert in and can focus on that. That becomes a part of the broader story of our industry. Some people, maybe be focused on data privacy and ethics, others maybe focused on implementation and collection capabilities and tools, others are working on how do we communicate with a business, right? I think that it’s important that the digital analytics professional has a view of all of that but they don’t have to be expert in all of that. So one thing that I would take away from this SUPERWEEK is, um, I’m gonna go home and think about what do I really care about, what am I passionate about and then choose that to focus on because then I can think and shine in one area and be a part of the general industry and grow and make an impact on businesses and make an impact on the world in general.
It is a challenge to build a scalable education program and that’s one of the challenges because when there are so many people using Google Analytics we have to find a way to scale education to help people systematically understand the tool, understand the developments and, you know, really understand how to use it.
I think the problem with the pace of change is that we can’t create textbooks, right? How do people teach today? They create text books, and there are no text books about the things that we do. The pace of change creates a problem for educators because they like to define things and if everything changes all the time how do they create text books? (by textbooks I mean curriculum et cetera). I have the great good luck to teach as a part of many MBA programs in the USA: Stanford and Virginia and UCLA, in places like that. I’m gonna be teaching in Berkeley next month. So I think that one great thing is that for many universities that are creating the next generation of CEOs and directors and VP’s they are reaching out to the industry and people such as myself and many many many others. And they’re saying why don’t you come and teach the latest and greatest? We don’t need a text book. And so I can actually send them a blog post, I can send them a collection of…, I give them access to my dear data and I create some problems and I say go and solve them.
Some of the main things that came up as recurring themes for threats and challenges were really on privacy and ethics, so I think that as the world is becoming more and more aware of how data is playing a role on individuals lives because of the nature of targeting, because of the nature of that everyone’s on mobile devices and they within digital. I think that there’s going to become more of an awareness: hey what’s happening with all this data? So I think that the biggest challenge to our role in terms of data collection and using data in a meaningful and useful way is going to begin to clash against some people who aren’t using data in a way that is quite OK with the comfort zone of individuals.
I’ve been working with a couple of companies on trying to find a privacy business model. It’s a challenge. Having said that, our industry is based also on this idea of competing on analytics, if you know the book Thomas Davenport wrote couple years back. And this idea of competing on privacy is certainly starting to emerge. I think certainly also when it comes to analytics vendors they have an increasing role to present features so that their clients can respect the privacy rights of their consumers and customers. It’s an entire data ecosystems that is starting to think about this idea of competing on privacy. So you can become an economic differentiator.
I was here two years ago as well, discussing the same theme and trying to evangelize about issues related to data ethics and everybody was like: yeah, yeah, we know, we know. And it’s interesting to see how in the last 2 years this topic has raised to board level of discussions.
The European Union started a revision of their legislation related to the privacy in 2012. And the final text on the European Data Protection Regulation was agreed between the different parties of the European Commission, the Parliaments – the initial text, at the end of the last year, so in December, before Christmas – there was finally a final text under the Christmas tree: related to the Data Protection Regulation. Which is going to replace the Privacy Directive. The thing is for our industry, talking about cookies, cookie walls – since 2011 following the e-Privacy directive (the revision of e-Privacy directive) and this is up for revision again as well. So the European Data Protection Regulation talks a bit about the e-Privacy Directive, but it still need to be revised as well. But clearly, the sentiment is changing, I think both sides of the Atlantic – not only in Europe but in the United States people are getting with this idea that data is good for economic growth but can create harm for the citizens.
I’m optimistic about it, you have to be if you have young children, you have to be optimistic about the future. It’s evolving, you know, talking about data ethics 3 years ago: data, big data, collecting as much as we can. There are different thing at play in the industry: open source movements have an important role when it comes to data ethics. I’m optimistic about the future and I’m seeing that people also want to talk about it. Doesn’t mean that they have all the answer and that it’s fine, we need to start thinking about it and even if we built something that’s not perfect we need to start. And we can do that together. And I think this is the interesting challenge for 2016 and 2017.
As an industry we always can take a step ahead and I think we have now an imperative to be much clearer: are you being transparent and what are you doing with the consumer data? Are you collecting data, processing and storing it in a way that is secure? Is it protected? And does the consumer have a choice in how their data is used, collected or not to be collected. So those three things being tenants – I was thinking of how can we future-proof ourselves to uncertainties about the future and it seems like that’s the playbook right there. If you think about how do you better serve your customers in a way that is transparent, secure and provides them choice – you’re gonna go in a direction where you’re not doing the kinds of things that could come under legislative, regulatory issues and you gonna go in the directions which is ethical and good for you and your customers, which is good for your business. So I think that’s something that really least in my view is coming up as a highlight for this year is as an industry we just need to get a lot more serious about maintaining privacy, security and transparency choice and and security of data.
The risks are increasing so it’s also the reason why it’s becoming board-level discussion. So last year and certainly since 2012 data breaches in security was the main risk. But, well, you know, you had a data breach and you could contact your customers, but today we’re talking about other types of risks which are fines, which is where the European Data Protection Regulation comes in with the revision of fines that can go up to 4% of global turnover.
And then the conversation continues so my hope is that the conversation can continue from this conference to other conferences and within the just general you know online community that we share.
It’s great when you have time and peace to talk to people about everything that is going on, the depth of the discussions were very interesting. And also the fact that there is such a large expert community that comes to SUPERWEEK. And not only experts but, you know, we see people with different levels of expertise which enriches the discussions as well as we see what’s coming up. So it has been really interesting to have time to discuss analytics in such a nice environment, with snow and fire and mulled wine. It was really great and had a lot of fun.
Up in the mountains this looks like a retreat of analysts for a week. It’s really madness. And we had the snow!
You rarely get the chance to just openly chat with other people and of course we talked about the work but you also get to know other aspects of the people in the industry. Do they have kids, what they like to do outside of the work and I think that’s important also because it makes it more human. We’re always data driven but beyond the data there are people. And that aspect is something I think very unique at SUPERWEEK.
Best SUPERWEEK yet – it’s really great to see the community coming together again as it has for the last several years but having Jim Sterne join us this year was, I think really special to have him here and be part of this community and this event. This is a smaller conference in numbers of people but it feels very close and so much great information and knowledge in a beautiful environment and setting that you really just can’t get anywhere else in the world. That’s been fun.
So great to see such a gathering of friends and smart professionals and openness to discussion and helpful each other. So I think that was – just see more of this, more SUPERWEEKs.