Todd James, Chief Data and Technology Officer at 84.51°, speaks with Karen Rhodes, Distinguished Technologist at HP Enterprise, in a video interview about acceptance of data in business, route optimization, getting buy-in, personalization sciences, and building collaborative models to drive business value.
84.51° is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger. It is a retail data science insights and media company that operates an insights business to help businesses better understand the customers’ path to purchase.
At the onset of the conversation, James says that when it comes to data getting accepted in business, it cannot be pushed, rather, there must be a degree of pull from the business side.
There must be engagement and discussions, says James. He feels fortunate to have a leadership team at 84.51° which is interested in the ways data and analytics can be used to help better inform decisions.
James also educates the team on the scenarios that showcase the impact of analytics. According to him, getting to a point where data understands business and vice-versa, is when magic happens.
Sharing a work instance, James discusses optimizing routes for e-commerce picking, when a data question was answered by an integrated team member and a business question was answered by a data scientist.
This cohesiveness and integration across business, technology, and data science is where the innovative ideas start, says James.
Delving further into processes and getting the much-needed buy-in for data models, he affirms leveraging data and analytics to:
Enhance customer experience by providing relevant offers
Shorten the amount of time for completing transactions
Stating another example, James mentions personalization sciences, which reduces the time required to build an e-commerce basket by 43x, and the number continues to go up. To maintain the relevance, he considers how the products can impact lives.
For the most impact, the organization focuses on relevant customer experiences and simplifying associate experience. The goal is to remove friction and be able to provide recommendations for the next best action for the highest impact.
Moving forward, James reveals that the company allows associates to focus on serving customers and feeding the “human spirit.” Additionally, the focus is on enhanced decision-making and making people’s lives easier, which aligns with the business purpose as well.
When asked about building collaborative models, James expresses his belief that walls between organizational functions add time and degrade the product. He stresses that for technology to have an impact, it must be intimate with the business and the problem that it is trying to solve.
Adding on, James states that better ideas are developed collectively. Therefore, for the best collaboration, the company is building the elements of intimacy and scale. He maintains that operating at enterprise scale is critical today where just having AI and advanced analytics to solve one problem is not enough.
Enterprise-scale artificial intelligence is required and the collaboration model has it, says James. With many names like squads, Spotify agile model, pods, or synergy teams, the idea is to align a group of people from different functions against an area of the business or a capability that can be used across the business.
The next step is to get the team intimate with the problem and give them the skills and capabilities needed to deliver solutions that can scale, says James. He maintains that for the company, these cross-functional pods include data scientists from 84.51°, engineers from Kroger, and 84.51° product managers.
The goal is to understand the problem, the data, how to use data, its limitations, and the scope of expansion, and this generally comes from business, adds James. He expresses his wish to scale up science capabilities which would be accessible across multiple needs.
Shedding light on the center of excellence around forecasting, James confirms building collaboration capabilities, especially in the operations and supply chain spaces. He maintains that through this, the business is prioritized and accountability is shared.
As a result, the teams are cross-functional and to some extent, can see cross-pollination that over time, will lead to different career pathing decisions, James notes. According to him, the collaboration model is good for the business, the teams involved, and the associates engaged from a career path perspective.
Furthermore, James confirms that while in transition, the company is shifting more towards this model as data scientists are working in the retail operation, supply chain, and merchandising space across all business units. He notes that this sends out a good message of teamwork and provides real-world experience to understand the work.
In conclusion, James asserts that it boils down to getting exposure down to the level of what work is being done. On the flip side for business partners, the exposure helps them understand science from a data perspective.
CDO Magazine appreciates Todd James for sharing his insights with our global community.