With 6+ years of experience in Market Research and Business Analytics, during this tenure Surjit Swain has been involved in execution and delivery of various business analytics projects. Posing an experience in automated business solution design and development and strategic business planning, he currently heads the advanced analytics division at ASEAN BU, The Coca Cola Company, where his primary responsibility is to unlock the insights from huge data and help in developing stronger business plans and business strategies.
AIM interacted with Swain, where he shares insightful information about how Coca Cola relies on analytics to generate value from large data sets, challenges in the industry and more. With an inclusive work culture defined by company’s seven core values—leadership, passion, integrity, collaboration, diversity, quality, and accountability, Swain believes that with the appointment of James Quincey as new CEO, innovation has become important than ever.
AIM Analytics India Magazine- What prompted Coca-Cola to adopt a more data and analytics-based approach? What difference has it made for your organization?
SS Surjit Swain- Data in any organization is meant to be used to create business value and I think the idea of is not new, however, the effective use of data i.e. analytics is becoming more and more important. For us business has always wanted to derive insights from information in order to make better, smarter, real time, fact-based decisions: it is this demand for depth of knowledge that has fuelled the growth of advanced analytics.
Secondly, it is no longer enough for companies like us to simply understand current process or operations with a view on improving what already exists, when there is now the capacity to question if a process is relevant to the business, or whether there is a new way of solving a particular issue. For us, the key driver for innovation within organizations is to constantly challenge existing practices rather than consistently accept the same and hence a more data and analytics based approach is a logical first step.
For me the starting point of any data and analytics based approach is the raw data and the first change we had to make was just to make our data of higher quality through great research. We have many data, and sometimes we just weren’t using that data and we weren’t paying as much attention to its quality as we now need to. That was, one, to make sure that the data has the right lineage, that the data has the right permissible purpose to serve the business. This, in my mind, is a journey. We made good progress and we expect to continue to make this progress across our system.
Here in Coke we have leveraged analytics to aggregate both internal and external data, to meet reporting demands, manage massive data volumes, create market advantages and to manage risk in some cases.
AIM- Would you like to highlight few use cases where your organization has made extensive use of advanced analytics?
SS- Lately as a company we have started to focus a lot on our revenue metrics as against only volume which used to be the case earlier and for that it extremely important that we ensure that all the strategies at the very first place are planned and designed that way.
To establish a bridge between our business targets / strategy and our marketing programs designed to achieve them, we have created some solid consumer centric models, which are more of forward looking and can work both on a top down as well as bottom up estimate approach, based on beliefs on category growth and share evolution. Some of our organizational information is typically historical, incomplete and claimed. For a forward-looking perspective, we have ensured that it is enriched with external information. This entire piece has not only helped us plan better for revenue growth but also to be better prepared for innovation because the model is a consumer centric model.
We have been globally using a modelling technique that measures the impact of various marketing and promotional activities on short-term incremental retail volume. Provides an understanding of the drivers of short term volume and an understanding of the effect of advertising by media channels
As a company we do have some complex and fragmented architecture landscapes that makes the cohesive collation and dissemination of data at a larger level difficult. New analytics solutions are playing an important role in enabling an effective global platform. Such effective platforms help to create a single view across the organization by utilizing a combination of standard reporting and data visualization:
- Data from multiple source systems is cleansed, normalized and collated
- External feeds gathering from the latest research, best practice guidelines, benchmarks and other online repositories
- Use of enhanced visualization techniques, benchmarking indexes and dashboards helps to inform management
AIM- How do you generate value from large datasets that the company produces from various resources such as multi-channel retail data, customer profile data, social media data, supply chain data etc.?
SS- Like many organizations today, TCCC lives in a data-rich environment with multiple streams of information at your fingertips. Getting those data sources to “talk” to one another, though, is a challenge and this is something, which is critical in generating value from such large datasets.
For us it is simple principle of going back to the business question or objective of why do we need the data/research in the first place. In our team, any business building idea at the very least has to be something that the customer can notice or experience, i.e. a new piece of communication, an activation or event, a price/size/product attribute change etc.
Most of the time a business question in itself is not linearly answered by any single source of data. In almost every case it is an amalgamation of multiple data sources and hence while designing the solution itself we encourage the business teams to come up with what we call as “Full learning Plan” which means we are very clear from the outset on the multiple data sources and analytics solutions required
The path to any actionable insight doesn’t come in one single form. There are many different elements in play, and they are always changing — business goals, technologies, data types and sources as you have asked in the question, and then some are in a state of flux. Each path to analytics insight should be individually paved with an outcome-driven mind-set. To do this, we usually take two approaches depending on the nature of the business problem. First, for a known problem with a known solution — such as consumer segmentation for targeted marketing campaigns — we would take a hypothesis-based approach by starting with the outcome.
Second, for a known problem area, ‘how to retain consumers’ for example, but with an unknown solution, we would take a discovery-based approach to look for patterns in the data to find interesting correlations that may be predictive.
AIM- The firm also performs a lot of social media analytics to determine customer behaviour. Can you shed light on this statement?
SS- Yes, as a company, we have started performing social media analytics to determine consumer behaviour. In fact, here in ASEAN we have our own social hub based out of Manila, where they work with multiple listening partner with the objective of earning trust across all audiences and stakeholders and generating value by driving operational effectiveness in terms of real time cross-marketing insights etc.
We have also been engaging in some Digital Deep Dive (3D) analyses in partnership with leading social media platforms where the emphasis is on providing granularity into how digital and social tactics are driving volumes for Coca-Cola.
AIM- Tell us about the key challenges pertaining to adoption of analytics. How is Coca-Cola addressing those challenges to make better use of analytics?
SS- What we found challenging, and what I find in my discussions with a lot of my counterparts that is still a challenge, is finding the set of tools that enable organizations to efficiently generate value through the process of data based analytics. I hear about individual wins in certain applications, but having a more cohesive ecosystem in which this is fully integrated is something that I think we are all struggling with, in part because it’s still very early days. Although we’ve been talking about it seemingly quite a bit over the past few years, the technology is still changing; the sources are still evolving.
And that brings my notice to the second challenge which is what I have learned in my last few years is that the power of fear is quite tremendous in evolving oneself to think and act differently today, and to ask questions that we weren’t asking about our roles and methods in analytics before. And it’s that mindset change—from an expert-based mind-set to one that is much more dynamic and much more learning oriented, as opposed to a fixed mind-set—that I think will be a gradual process and is a fundamental shift.
AIM- Is there any other data and analytics driven solution that you would like to talk about? How are these solutions making a difference for your customers?
SS- Digital technologies are transforming nearly every aspect of life, including the way we dine. As restaurants move into the digital age, they need more real-time data to inform – and tools to execute – their digital strategies. Coca-Cola North is offering a new portfolio of research and solutions that can empower customers to face these challenges. Coca-Cola assembled a portfolio of business-driving digital solutions, powered by Fishbowl, which will provide valuable insights to Coca-Cola customers, as well as tools for achieving success in the areas of guest acquisition and engagement.
The first element of value available to Coca-Cola customers is a playbook of insights, case studies and best practices to inform customers as they develop their digital strategies.
Coca-Cola is also offering a portfolio of new tools to help its restaurant customers grow their email marketing programs and attract new guests. So in a way, it is making some big difference.
AIM- Please talk about that lies ahead for the firm in a data-driven landscape.
SS- I think I have read somewhere that it would be a function of Vs and I completely agree that it would continue to be so, but the focus on last 2 Vs will be even more now.
- Volume: the amount of data being created is vast compared to traditional data sources
- Variety: data comes from different sources and is being created by machines as well as people
- Velocity: data is being generated extremely fast — a process that never stops, even while we sleep
- Veracity: big data is sourced from many different places, as a result you need to test the veracity/quality of the data
The second area is working with our people and making certain that we are centralizing some aspects of our business. We are centralizing our capabilities and we are democratizing its use. I think the other aspect is that, we as a team and as a company recognize that we ourselves do not have all the sufficient skills, and we require collaboration across all sorts of entities outside of Coke. This collaboration comes from technology innovators, data providers, and analytical companies. We need to put a full package together for our business colleagues and partners so that it’s a convincing argument that we are developing things together, that we are co-learning, and that we are building on top of each other.