In Pursuit of Data Harmony

In the data analytics space, effective operations work involves empowering each member of an analytics team to experiment and innovate.

Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Nearly every song put to wax by The Temptations and The Supremes. So many of pop music’s most enduring hits share the same secret weapon: soaring harmonies. In music, in life, and, I would argue, in operations work, pushing the whole beyond the sum of its parts is the first step in achieving legacy-cementing results.

As someone with experience in marketing operations, account management, project management, and resource management, I have been fortunate to spend my career accumulating a variety of perspectives on how the corporate world can and should function. If there has been a discernible throughline in these diverse professional experiences, it has been the indisputable primacy of people — or, more precisely, interpersonal collaboration.

More often than not, innovation occurs not when a single individual goes it alone, but when a team of talented individuals are able to come together and implement their expertise in complementary ways. I have found this to be particularly true in my current position as head of Analytics Operations at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness.

Keeping the Collective Up-to-Date

Just as a beautiful harmony requires a group of vocalists to strategically align the different notes they sing, an effective data analytics project requires a group of data professionals to strategically align their different skill-sets. Data strategists must “compose” the project, data engineers, data scientists, and digital analysts must all play their assigned notes, and data visualization experts must promote the project in the right way, to the right audience. But who is “producing” the project? Who is overseeing the process to ensure that team members’ contributions coalesce into an exemplary final product? In short, operations professionals.

Ops work takes a number of forms in the data analytics space. Granted, as an outside observer might expect, ops work involves a fair share of nuts and bolts administration. As part of the Publicis Groupe within the Publicis Health Hub, the Power of One operating model requires tenacious coordination across teams and agencies on partnership projects.  And once the project is initiated, ops professionals are tasked with pricing, data discovery processes, and implementing best practices to ensure consistent storytelling, roadmap visibility and risk mitigation.

And yet, while we most often play in the key of consistency, there is another side of ops work that is grounded in freedom and experimentation. Keeping all the moving parts of an analytics project aligned is of paramount importance, but that does not mean ops professionals are restricted to using the same tried-and-true approaches in perpetuity — least of all in the context of a data analytics projects.

Indeed, circa 2019, the analytics space at large is defined by novelty. There is always something new arriving on the scene — new techniques, new products, new services, new means of competitive differentiation — and one’s success hinges on their ability to remain on the leading edge of innovation. Regardless of their specific area of expertise, data & analytics is not a discipline an individual learns once, but an exercise in ongoing learning that demands patience, curiosity, and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Of course, no single team member can be expected to stay abreast of every development in data analytics — just as no singer can be expected to harmonize with themselves (with a few exceptions) — which is why collaboration is the crux of innovation. In data analytics, progress requires experimentation, but to be effective, this experimentation must be strategically aligned, not haphazard.

Structured Experimentation

It falls to operations professionals to select and establish the ideal constraints for an analytics team’s experimentation. They need not possess comprehensive knowledge of each analytical subdiscipline to do this effectively — the Quincy Joneses, T Bone Burnetts, and Rick Rubins of the world are all skilled musicians, but hardly musical prodigies — but they do need to become familiar with their colleagues’ abilities.

I view my role as Director of Analytics Operations as a platform to champion our analytics team’s experimentation. While I have a responsibility to hold these efforts in alignment with our clients’ priorities, I am constantly striving to create the conditions of possibility for innovation. Each member of the Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness analytics team brings specialized expertise to the “studio,” and it is my job to provide them with the support they need to integrate that expertise with the expertise of their colleagues in ways that create “harmonies” — service models, proprietary products, end to end customized solutions — whose power exceeds the sum of their parts.

Beyond hiring — and keeping (we have an unheard of 100 percent retention rate) — top talent, this has involved building an organizational culture rooted firmly in collegiality, not hierarchy. Our goal is to generate genuine value for our clients, and this means structuring our efforts around individual team member’s abilities instead of around sub-departmental silos.

Striking the Right Chord

By giving our analytics team license to experiment, by encouraging them to push boundaries, we are able to stay one step ahead of the curve, even in an industry as dynamic as healthcare marketing analytics.

As my colleagues have written about at length, the Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness approach is premised on asking and answering key business questions. Consequently, our ops work entails much more than simply mapping hours across a scope and tracking deliverables — our primary goal is exploring how we can help our clients enhance their business and add value towards better business outcomes.

Ultimately, in music and at work, harmony can be achieved with a clear vision and the people that surround you.  Nobody is playing the same note, and over time, it only gets better.

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