Matt Hutchison, the person responsible for the delivery of analytics and business intelligence at customer loyalty marketing company ICLP, has been in the data industry for two decades. He gives his perspective on wider industry changes and why he thinks data and analytics is more democratised than ever.
Hutchison, director of business intelligence and analytics at ICLP and the wider Collinson Group, is somewhat of a veteran of the data industry having worked in the field for 20 years.
He has seen a great deal of change and, with most of the transformation having taken place in recent years, he feels that now is a particularly interesting and exciting time to be in the industry, which he says is on the cusp of exponential growth. According to Hutchison, in an interview with DataIQ, the predicted growth rate for the size of the data and analytics industry over the next few years is huge and he attributes this to a lower barrier to entry.
“There was a time when really high-end analytics was just really expensive because of the technology you had to invest. That isn’t the case anymore.” He said that the availability of cloud-based processing “that anybody can access for virtually no money,” as well as open source tools like R and Python that are “really good and essentially free,” have democratised the industry.
He also said that really good visualisation tools are putting analytics and business intelligence in the hands of people that would never have gone near it a few years ago. New techniques in the use of machine learning, in addition to cloud computing, are the cause of a sizeable increase in the personalisation of communications and the customer experience.
Hutchison said that personalisation is fundamental to what ICLP does with analytics and it is looking at ways to make the customer journey more personal, particularly in its airport lounge business. He gave the example of one of ICLP’s global technology clients for whom the business has run the loyalty communications for years.
“In the last six months, we’ve changed and moved away from a traditional segmentation approach to using machine learning. Essentially, we have an algorithm that that selects the optimal blocks of content to send out each customer,” he said.
ICLP communicates with customers twice a week with Hutchison explaining that the machine learning algorithm looks at hundreds of millions of previous transactions and communications and selects the right content to insert into subsequent emails. As a result, its clients have seen an increase in open rates and response. But these are not the only benefits. The automation of the process means that communication activities can be carried out much more quickly with far fewer resources.
Though the first example he gave was in regard to digital communication, Hutchison said that physical retailers can also benefit from personalising the experiences of their customers. He said: “In retail, you also have the ability to interact with someone when they’re in the store. There are various things you can use, like beacons and other tracking technologies.”
Hutchison noted that the tracking technologies can then be linked to historical transaction data or other profile data the retailer might have and then it can synchronise the data sets when the customer is in the store or even on the website. “Again, the capability of cloud computing and machine learning techniques and the algorithm approach to personalisation has enabled us to refine those things much more,” he said.
It is worth noting that, while Hutchison recognises that digital companies have a massive advantage when it comes to adopting personalisation “because everything is much more self-contained and trackable and they don’t have issues with legacy systems,” he thinks that bricks and mortar stores have a great opportunity because they interact with their customers in a different way.
He pointed out that beacons and geolocation technologies allow stores to identify when a customer is walking by. Hutchison himself is a member of retail rewards programmes, including Barclays Blue Rewards, and when walking past certain shops or restaurants, offers are pinged to him. However, he said that these location-based offers are being executed in a “fairly clunky way that is not particularly targeted”.
So, retailers have the opportunity to target their customers more carefully and give them offers that are more applicable to them and therefore of greater value.
With reference to ICLP’s loyalty programmes, he said that many of them run on currency and really interesting things can be done with the value of that currency and the cost of redeeming against it and products. “Being able to flex the numbers around that based on real-time supply and demand, that’s an interesting area coming down the track,” he said.
In terms of the effects of the changes in the industry to his business, Hutchison says two things are making the biggest impact. “The technologies around distributed processing like Hadoop has made the problem of scale go away, but for me the most interesting thing is speed,” he said.
Hutchison is excited by how quickly decisions can now be made, especially in the marketing space where “time is of the essence” and where he has noticed a broader trend towards real-time interactions. He said that the ability to do real-time interactions and personalisations that are very customer-centric is “absolutely fundamental” to the proposition of ICLP and other businesses in the Collinson Group.
“It’s at the heart of it and we’ve invested heavily in both people and technology as a result,” he said. “ICLP is now looking at pricing and supply and demand trends that change pricing in real-time.”
Hutchison is also excited by the Internet of Things and the data streams that come from telematics and wearable devices that are “potentially huge.” He said that ICLP is working with clients to see how they can use fitness trackers, like Fitbits, in interesting ways.
For Hutchison, the key trend has been the democratisation of access to data. He said that accessing, querying and visualising data has moved from being a very small proportion of any company’s business to a much larger proportion, which is a boon for his business. “The amount of people within our clients that we provide meaningful, useful, actionable data to is huge,” he said.