Klick's evolution into a data-driven company was born out of our desire to be more efficient—and a deep hatred for email.
It began with a small decision that was made over 15 years ago, when Klick had just a few employees and everyone was sitting within an arm’s length of each other. Leerom Segal, Aaron Goldstein, and their cofounder, Peter Cordy, had been friends for over 20 years. They trusted each other and could practically complete each other’s sentences.
The first few employees to join were easy to integrate through communication channels such as email, but as the company grew, the increasingly complex client projects were generating emails that were pages long and distributed to dozens of recipients, who were forwarding them to still more people, resulting in a cacophony of miscommunications and unnecessary mistakes. Cue the deep hatred.
Like many businesses, we needed a better way to manage the information that was floating around inside the company and to apply it in a useful way. We were surrounded by data we weren’t using. Taking inspiration from tech support systems, Aaron implemented a simple ticketing system that tracked each individually assigned task—the prototype of the system we would come to call Genome.
And then he banned internal email.
To be more accurate, he instructed the entire delivery organization to disregard any task assignment given via email. This forced client-facing teams to create tickets in order to get anything completed by the organization. In and of itself, it didn’t seem that monumental at the time. Ticketing systems were already a fairly well-known way of tracking requests and work orders.
In the process, though, we stumbled across a powerful insight. As Genome started to collect vast amounts of data, we realized we could use it to gain new understandings of how our company was running. We could see the number of tickets that were created by a specific department or a particular individual, and we could see the average time it took to close a type of task. We could identify who any task was assigned to, when it was opened, and the informal comments that surrounded it. But that was only the beginning.
The really big breakthrough, though, was when we realized that the information we were amassing allowed us to read our team's digital body language. We could identify the patterns of behavior that led to success and those that led to problems—and by catching those potential problems early, correct them with a relatively small change.
We are not the first or the only data-centric company. As recounted in the book and movie Moneyball, for example, baseball general manager Billy Beane used sabermetrics, a form of data-driven analytics, to lead the undervalued Oakland Athletics to a play-off series victory in the American League Division Series in 2006. In 2007, Tom Davenport published Competing on Analytics, which explained how companies like Amazon, Barclays, and CapitalOne were using sophisticated statistical analysis to understand their customers and make better decisions. In 2008, UPS, a 105-year-old company, rolled out its algorithm-powered juggernaut, ORION, to help fleet drivers reduce their carbon footprint by optimizing their daily routes. By 2010, authors like Tim Ferriss were really hitting their stride in showing us how we could use data to hack our own bodies.
In 2011, analytics and data science jobs accounted for a quite remarkable 0.1% of all job listings on LinkedIn, up from less than 0.01% just a decade before. The year-over-year growth of profiles with data science as a skill is up 46% in 2013. Google’s People Analytics team was also very active, sharing their early results in public forums. Finally, in 2012, author Charles Duhigg showed readers of The New York Times Magazine how the retail giant Target had gotten so good at analyzing our purchasing behavior that it could predict the products we would buy before we even knew we would need them.
We have now firmly transitioned to the next phase of our technological evolution: the data era. We have gotten exceedingly good at tracking margins, inventory, turnover rates, financial performance, and customer preferences, and many of us are learning to compete on those and other metrics.
What we discovered after building Genome was the next stage of data evolution: data superpowers. Data superpowers are less like Superman and more like the X‑Men’s Professor Xavier or Spiderman: the ability to know things that aren’t directly observable through your five senses. They’re what Leerom calls "a data-powered sixth sense," giving everyone in your organization an awareness of the entire organization well beyond their immediate realm.
For example, a car insurance company generates personalized policies for customers by using vehicle telemetry data to understand each driver’s unique habits. An online dating site uses the data it culls from extensive surveys to measure the compatibility between potential love matches. A government agency uses analytics to track down tax evaders and identify instances of fraud.
Data has become one of the most valuable resources we have for uncovering insights about our motivations and behavior. But every one of those examples is about the use of data for external (for example, customer-facing) purposes. What happens when you turn those algorithms around and look inside your own company? The result is extraordinary insight into your talent that unlocks the keys to breakthrough performance.
This article is adapted and excerpted from The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers by arrangement with Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
—Leerom Segal is a co-founder and CEO of Klick Health, the world’s largest independent digital health agency. He has won numerous awards as one of Canada’s leading young entrepreneurs. Aaron Goldstein is a co-founder and COO of Klick, responsible for orchestrating the creative application of technology that drives the company’s operations. Jay Goldman is a Managing Director for Klick and has been published in the Harvard Business Review. Rahaf Harfoush is a technology author and lecturer.