Simon Prinn of Walgreens Boots Alliance has done his fair share of project and teamwork. He and his team have worked with other stakeholders around the world on projects of strategic importance for the pharmacy, health and wellbeing organisation. He discussed the success of these projects, the relevance of his team to company strategy as well as tips for working productively across borders at DataIQ Summit.
As senior manager, Simon Prinn heads up the strategic data operations team at Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), having joined Boots 21 years ago.
WBA is a multinational organisation comprising Walgreens in the US, Boots, headquartered in the UK and with a presence in eight countries, and Swiss-based Alliance Healthcare which has over 300 distribution centres around the world.
With such an extensive global footprint, Prinn and his team are pulling in data from the UK, Mexico, Chile, Norway, Thailand, the US, China and South Korea. They turn that data into tools, reporting and data products that support things like strategy, mergers and acquisitions, geospatial, space and range, and trial design and analytics.
Prinn explained geospatial relates to the location of the shops, space and range is all about how the shops are laid out and how much space is given over to different product categories. Trial design and analytics is about testing the ideas that are suggested by different people in the business.
“Work with the person with the ‘I love spreadsheets’ cup.”
Doing this kind of work across different countries involves a lot of teamwork and collaboration but Prinn’s team have a knack for finding the best people work with. “When we go to a new market for the first time and we are talking to a bunch of analysts, we are looking for the person who has got the ‘I love spreadsheets’ cup, because they are the one who is really going to help us out.”
One project began 14 months ago when Prinn and his team were asked to create the first ever full customer transaction dataset for Chinese medical distribution and logistics business GuoDa Sinopharm with which WBA had gone into a joint venture. “They had all these allocations in China and we had a load of retail experience and with that came retail analytics expertise. We could wow them with our analytics expertise and get it done quickly,” said Prinn.
Significant challenges arose in this project with Prinn’s team not speaking Mandarin, as well as the fact the project was the first time anyone from either company had ever met anyone from the other. Also, GuoDa had 27 different subsidiaries and its data was split across seven IT platforms.
“In 14 weeks we created three years’ worth of data at the item transaction level.”
Despite these obstacles, Prinn and his team jumped straight in. “We got stuck in despite all manner of challenges in terms of cultural barriers and created the whole lot in 14 weeks. Fourteen weeks to create three years’ worth of data at the item transaction level for all of GuoDa and we did a lot of ‘quick wins’ analysis,” he said.
He explained that it was “quite simple stuff” but the hard part was getting all the data in the first place and stitching it together into one single dataset. One of those quick wins was the identification of a high-selling product in one subsidiary that wasn’t being sold in the other 26. “Once you
harmonise across the whole piece, suddenly the value case emerges,” he said. Two pieces of advice that Prinn likes work by are ‘begin with the end in mind,’ and ‘make everything generic and go for standard approach; from that you can build everything’.
“We were making generic modular capabilities, like Lego bricks.”
“That’s what we did,” he said. “We had to really understand the processes of each country. We went into their datasets, their technology such that we could have a single approach across the piece. We were making generic modular capabilities which we can stack on top of each other, like Lego bricks.”
This approach was put to excellent use by the strategic operations team when they were asked to create range analytics for Thailand. “That’s what we did, but in the process, we created this generic dataset and we were asking all other markets to create the same thing at the same time.
Having created it for Thailand, as soon as we had done that, it was available for all other markets because the datasets were exactly the same for other markets. And the same goes for all other pieces of modelling; once we had done it for one country, we could do it for the rest,” said Prinn.
“Data science and data engineering are not glamourous.”
One thing he has learnt along the way is the importance of hiring people with a can-do attitude.
“Data science and data engineering stuff might sound glamourous with working with people in China, South Korea and Thailand, but it’s not glamourous at all. It is a lot of time spent on the telephone and doing video conferences, coding, working things through so the people who do it have to really want to do it.”
Prinn said that there is support for his team and their work from the very top of the company. “Seb James, the new UK MD of Boots is talking about bringing back the glory days of Boots to the high street and this is the ambition where our skillset comes in because we are experts in doing macro space analysis.”
He said they have been working with group strategy for the past few months on creating the right mix for the 2,500 shops and changing the way they work, the brands they stock, the business processes and they can only do that if they’ve got the automation of the macro space analysis off to a fine start, so they can do multiple scenarios simultaneously.
A case in point is the new Boots flagship store that opened in London’s Covent Garden at the end of June. The 28,524 square foot spacious, light and airy store is focused on wellness and has over more than 300 new lines, a mini-hub of health and fitness technology, and stations for refilling water and certain cosmetics “showcases the best new thinking on the store of the future of Boots,” said Prinn.
He may be on to something. Situated in a few floors below the DataIQ office, the new store has garnered praise and generated discussion among the team. It has also encouraged a new shopping habit. I’ve signed up for an Advantage Card – 22 years after everybody else.
Simon Prinn was speaking at the DataIQ Summit. Sign up to the DataIQ newsletter to be notified of our other events and conferences.