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Whilst working as a Data and Insight Manager at the Post Office Balraj manages the customer marketing database, overseeing the analytics briefed to the out sourced analytical agencies and building an analytics team in order to support the business. “Being client side involves significant stake holder management and this is particularly acute at the Post Office as every product sold is through a partner business. It is a challenging but fun role in a tough sector (mainly Financial).”
“I am passionate about utilising data and analytics to solve business problems and help planners drive CRM strategies. I like to think I am pretty good at bringing analytics to life and helping analysts in the business world by developing their technical, communication and presentation skills.”
During his early career Balraj concentrated on learning statistics, campaign evaluation, building predictive models (CHAID, logistic regression and neural networks) and mastering SAS, SPSS and EXCEL. From then he moved into a more consultative role and found being a freelancer enabled him to expand his technical ability along with his business acumen to further help agencies build their analytics teams and offerings. “This has led me to become tool agnostic and focus on identifying the solution. For me this is the sign of a good analyst, once the solution has been identified they can use whichever tool is at hand to solve it and present the business advantage back to their audience.”
“My current role at the Post Office Limited (POL) is not your traditional Data and Insight Manager. I think I am the first person at POL to take responsibility and be the custodian of customer data and database. This has involved me identifying the security risks, trying to ensure that POL are adhering to the Data Protection Act of 1998 and that the data received from POL's partners is correct. This in turn has made me the most knowledgeable person regarding the POL database.”
“The big market trend is that every company wants an analyst,” states Balraj “I think the phrase 'big data' is scaring a lot of companies and they feel like they need to be involved with 'big data'. I have seen these things in the past with predictive modelling, neural networks, CRM, WEB analytics, real time data, social media and other band wagons. This means the demand for analysts is sky high however the supply of good analysts is out stripped by demand.”
Companies’ not understanding analytics is a common factor within the industry. According to Balraj, they think WEB data analysts and traditional analysts are different, and don't understand that the principles of analysis is the same, for example A/B testing for online activity is the same as testing two different creative in a direct mail campaign. The key thing to understand is that the analyst can identify the idiosyncrasies that may occur in the data, remove them and thus get to the true results.
No doubt the WEB is resulting in a lot of information and the key skill is to identify the pieces of information and insight that will add value to the business.
One good trend that Balraj highlights is the plethora of dashboard solutions on the market. Getting those key insights out to your audience in a digestible way is a key and these solutions provide just that, rather than data intense EXCEL workbooks with umpteen tabs.
As mentioned Balraj is tool agnostic, so he learns how to use the tools at hand to get to what he needs. Without budget contraints Blaraj's natural combination of tools would be "SQL for data extraction, SAS for data manipulation, analysis and statistics (you can really use the PROC SQL functionality for the extraction), EXCEL for reports and charts and TABLEAU for displaying reports to an audience."
“Analytics is analytics. The principles of analyses are the same WEB is just another channel and to produce the correct analysis and insight you need to understand the data. The great thing about the WEB is there are a lot more actions that a potential customer can make during the consideration and purchase journey that can be measured (dwell time, number of visits, number of links clicked etc) where as below the line tend to be response and conversion. This also lends to more trigger based communications where the customer can be helped and encouraged to convert. But as part of the media mix of communications we want to measure all our activity in order to learn and develop the communication activity by all channels.
In the 20 years Balraj has been in the business he describes how the challenges have not really changed, identifying the right analytics to provide the right answers to the client and explaining them to the client so they understand the findings and the benefit. The things that have been more acute are keeping up with technology, especially the online world, and demand from clients for analysis to support their business.
“I think the key challenge is where you want to be, do you want to be a technical expert or a strategic business person and do you have the correct mindset. The money is with the strategy but along with that comes additional stress and pressure!”
Companies face different challenges when involving data insight according to Balraj, the key thing missing is common sense with a tendency to of over analysing. “I see it where I work every day. We have segmentations and models, but they don't answer the question on what the communications should be. They provide guides and indication and can also be wrong. So interpretation, understanding, testing, learning and evolving is key.”
“It would be my biggest horror in five years times to see people with no training and no understanding of data performing insights and making interpretations. This trend will increase with the push by the big software houses trying to provide point and click analytical tools and the lack of skilled personnel within the market. When some significant errors occur I think companies will be more cautious with analytics and hopefully invest in getting more graduates into the market.”
For Balraj is is all about the problem solving ability and communications. "If you are good at problem solving you will work out the skills you need to achieve the solution but you need to sell the solution too. However, during an interview, I look to see what effort the candidate has made in understanding the company/business, I like to understand the decision making from college to university to early roles. I had a candidate who prior to University was a manager at a fast food outlet. They glossed over this but for me understanding this was good as it gave me an impression of their interaction with work colleagues. You need to fit in with the culture of the company too so trying to understand that during the recruitment process is important to me."
If you want to succeed within this market, in the words of Balraj “Be good at EXCEL, as soon as you get deemed as an EXCEL guru doors all over the place open”, as this is still something that has not changed in the last 20 years. If you are a good analyst you will get bored quickly, don't stay in the same role where you are not learning be brave and get another role, you are in demand and this will give you the breadth of experience that will provide you the ability lead in this area.