Six phrases which should be banned when you’re discussing data mobility

Retailers and lifestyle brands are only too aware of the challenges they face when it comes to the massive amounts of data that need to be wrangled, tamed and made sense of to run things profitably, provide a decent mobile-first customer service and, increasingly, comply with the law.

There are tricky conversations to had at board-level. Dan Hartveld, CTO at retail technology firm, Red Ant, wants those conversations to be productive.  Here he takes a look at the phrases that are guaranteed to make the CEO’s eyeballs roll.

This is the ‘Wild West’ phase of data integration and management – it’s not even clear who actually owns the data being generated second on second – so it’s hardly surprising that some retailers have made decisions based on strategies which are not entirely driven by sustainable ideals. So here they are – six phrases that should be banned from the boardroom if you want a fruitful discussion about data and mobile-led digital transformation:

I’ve been to a retail tech expo and I’ve discovered we need to put VR, AR and all the latest gadgets in all our stores as soon as we can – customers will love it

It’s easy to be swayed by the allure of shiny things – a new gadget, the latest hi-tech installation, a ‘miraculous’ virtual reality gimmick. Of course they have their place as innovations in the digital store, but using budget to paint a veneer on top of your systems without tackling how your underlying data works and connects will give you more problems than solutions. Take the virtual dressing room, for example – unless it uses customer data to assess, anticipate and deliver not only the right images but access to physical products across all channels, it will never be anything more than an image on a screen.

Can’t we just stick the new stuff on top of what we’ve already got?

When you know you need to do something about data but you’re not clear what it is, it’s tempting to introduce new systems and data packages on top of legacy processes and adopt a ‘more is more’ attitude. This may seem like a quick fix, rather than going through the painful process of auditing, analysing and assimilating – but often the end result is ‘all data, no insight’. More information is of no use unless it can be put to work, which means getting systems to communicate and integrate.

I don’t want to give anyone access to our data – it’s too much of a risk

While the data ownership fine print is still being written, wanting to keep hold of and protect your data is no bad thing. But you need to weigh this up with the fact that you could be closing the door on business opportunity. If you’re unwilling to share information with proven third parties and platforms with the potential to make your business better, your bottom line is going to take a hit.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Retailers and brands that have been in business for a while will have legacy systems that they’re very happy with – they want to carry on doing things as they’ve always done them. Inertia is a powerful force – boards can feel nervous if they’re made to get out of their comfortable rut, ploughed by old-school thinking and patched, mended systems made to work way beyond their original purpose. And decisions made on this basis about vital business strategies will not be practical or long-lasting.

I want what they’ve got

This can be heard in retail boardrooms everywhere – once a competitor takes action, there’s a scramble to catch up. But knee-jerk reactions lead to hasty decisions and implementations which usually turn out to be expensive mistakes down the line. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for mobile data management – you need to work out what you want for your own brand, customers and sales colleagues before you commit to a platform for change.

We’ve got this nailed

While others bury their heads in the sand or worry about competitors, some businesses think they’ll be fine because they already have a strategy, which is equally dangerous unless they really have done the strategic legwork and are keeping on top of the ever-evolving data landscape. Even the most clued-up data scientist can’t know everything – as data points multiply, so do devices, systems, platforms and connections, and there’s just no way to anticipate them all. Accepting there are ‘known unknowns’ and being prepared to communicate doubt is the only way to avoid getting caught out in the future.

…and one which should be part of every discussion: Let’s be honest…

Each of these phrases will hamper progress when it comes to having a meaningful dialogue about your mobile data strategy. Fortunately, there’s one simple thing which can set data strategists on the right track – honesty. Start a straightforward conversation about what you have, what you need and how to bridge the gap, and the truth will set you free.

Dan Hartveld, CTO, Red Ant