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How to make the most of your data—and empower your workforce

A new approach to analytics allowed athletic wear retailer Gymshark to better understand its customers and make quick, high-impact business decisions

How to make the most of your data—and empower your workforce
[Source: Gymshark]
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As a direct-to-consumer retailer, Gymshark needs to be nimble to stay relevant in the cutthroat athletic wear market. The U.K.-based company has access to scads of data about its customers, who attend Gymshark events, engage with the company on social media, and even follow workout programs on its app. But all of that data is meaningless if Gymshark can’t act on it—and quickly.

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Enter Analytic Process Automation (APA), which allows the company, as well as others across industries, to dramatically accelerate the speed at which it makes business-critical decisions. “One of the biggest myths is that it takes years, and massive amounts of capital, to achieve sweeping digital transformation across an organization,” says Sharmila Mulligan, chief strategy officer at Alteryx, an APA platform. “Many companies are stuck in neutral—they’ve embarked on the journey but can’t determine how to move forward.”

Mulligan adds that, at its core, digital transformation involves three initiatives: expanding access to data, automating complex processes, and broadening employees’ skills. “They’re linked, and they’re infinitely achievable,” she says.

Gemma Hulbert, Gymshark’s chief data officer, understands the value Analytic Process Automation brings to the company. “Visibility into how we’re performing, and ready access to the underlying data, are key to our business,” she says. “Accelerating the way we generate and act on data insights empowers everyone across the organization.”

DEMOCRATIZING DATA

Companies are sitting on massive treasure troves of data, yet they tap into very little of it. A survey by NewVantage Partners found that 72% of companies have yet to forge a data culture, and 69% report they have not created a data-centric organization.

Part of the challenge is that many companies can’t bridge the data gap. Internal data specialists know how to access the company’s stats, but may not know exactly what information is most useful to the business. Meanwhile, the business managers know what information they need, but don’t necessarily have the tools, or the skills, to access the data efficiently.

Analytic Process Automation helps get the right data into the hands of the right people. And it also helps narrow the data gap by allowing companies to hire more broadly. At Gymshark, that has meant recruiting creative problem solvers, rather than expert coders. “Even new hires in junior roles can add value very quickly,” Hulbert says.

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AUTOMATING COMPLEX PROCESSES

Many firms would like to speed up their data processes, getting ever closer to real-time analysis. For instance, pop-up retail events are a major part of Gymshark’s business. It uses customer metrics, including engagement with its app, spending levels, and gender splits, to find the best locations for those events. Just a few years ago, crunching that data took 14 days—an eternity in the fast-paced world of online retail. 

Today, using Analytic Process Automation, the firm can compare a number of locations and select the most promising one in less than five minutes. “We can find out quickly which city has the most people who’ve made purchases from us within an X-mile radius or an X journey time,” says Ben Francis, Gymshark’s founder and chief marketing officer. “It’s incredibly powerful.”

Mulligan and the team at Alteryx refer to this step as “accelerating processes through automation.” It’s a way for companies to eliminate manual data analysis in favor of high-speed processing power that results in actionable insights. Previously, organizations have used multiple products, managed by different departments, to access, prepare, and analyze data, with manual handoffs and other time-consuming steps along the way. With APA, by contrast, “You start with the business objective in mind, and then pull together the different data steps in that process,” Mulligan says.

EXPANDING EMPLOYEES’ SKILLS

As processes are automated and access to data is democratized with Analytic Process Automation, it’s only natural that employees are “upskilled” along the way. Workers whose days have been occupied by tedious manual data gathering can pivot to more challenging tasks that make better use of human intelligence. It’s how, for instance, one retailer used APA to identify new e-commerce customers much more quickly. With the time saved, the team developed a customer segmentation process that allowed them to add more personalization to their website.

[Source: Alteryx]
APA typically delivers the type of quick wins—like easily automating daily reports—that excite and motivate people. Mulligan points out that upskilling employees through forced training usually isn’t productive, especially when it happens at a pace that doesn’t fit their learning style. “When people go back to their desks afterwards, they go back to the old ways they’ve always done things,” she says. “But when you put technology in their hands that’s easy and engaging, they can apply their creativity on their own schedule and then see an outcome come to life. That’s how people learn—that’s what makes them aspire to do it again and again and again.”

Take the recent Gymshark hire who had never set foot in the company’s office due to coronavirus-related shelter-in-place requirements when she started. Thanks to Analytic Process Automation, she was able to dive in and start applying Gymshark data in her first two weeks on the job. “She said that in her previous company she had to be glued to a data scientist to do the things that she can now do on her own,” Francis says. “That’s a testament to the power and flexibility of APA.”

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