How Retailers Can Democratize Data to Buoy Performance

Retail companies have invested billions in data analytics and infrastructure, seeking competitive advantage through deeper, more granular visibility into consumer behavior, business operations, supply chains and more. They’ve also embraced tools that enable them to understand and help predict customer behavior through real-time data analysis.

Yet while retailers may be awash in data, that doesn’t mean data is embedded into the daily decision-making process across the organization. In fact, a recent McKinsey survey found that nearly 30% of retailers and consumer goods companies don’t cascade objectives and key results past the business unit level. This can create obstacles to strategic clarity and overall performance, as well as impede talent engagement and retention strategies.

But at many companies, critical front office decisions — such as in-store marketing or performance marketing — are being made at a higher level than where the work is done. For example, in that same McKinsey survey, 27% of retailers said in-store marketing decisions are made above the front office, and 33% said the same about digital route to market and customer contact. This can greatly limit the autonomy and agility of the teams doing the work and “invites bureaucracy,” McKinsey analysts note. 

Here are a few examples of why democratized data access and devolved decision making should go hand-in-hand — and how retailers can make change happen.


The Case for Data Democracy

Innovation and engagement are more likely when teams are empowered to work collaboratively and independently. But if leveraging data to help inform and drive decisions are business goals, how readily accessible is data across your organization? If teams are waiting weeks (or more!) to get insight and results due to limited access to data and analytics tools, organizational agility is greatly hindered.

Retailers can bridge the gap between data empowerment and lagging internal processes with democratized data access through self-service tools and role-based access. Ultimately, data democracy is about cross-functional collaboration, accelerated decision making and improved responsiveness and performance. High-performing consumer-facing companies, McKinsey notes, “vest teams with the necessary autonomy and authority to make decisions.” In pursuit of speed and responsiveness, these companies know how to move decision making closer to the consumer while equipping decision makers with appropriate resources.

The value of data access extends to sharpening the ability to navigate a crisis, which retailers have certainly grappled with in recent years. According to Workday’s Closing the Acceleration Gap report, only 46% of business leaders say they are well-equipped to ensure business continuity in times of crisis. But in companies where data is fully accessible, the figure rises to 76%, underscoring the connection between democratized data and performance.

When teams across the organization — from the front office to the C-suite — have independent access to data and can use it to support decision making, raw data is more likely to be translated into insight, action and competitive advantage. “With data in their own hands, teams are more likely to uncover new patterns and drive new initiatives,” Deloitte notes in its Digital Transformation Through Data report.

Democratized data is a win-win for everyone — data teams no longer need to field data access requests from across the organization, while employees have access to the right data at the right time to make fast, more informed decisions for the business.

Putting Data to Work: What Change Looks Like

Now comes the crucial part: making it happen. Lack of data isn’t an issue. For years, retailers have invested in digital tools to help gather data on critical items such as from point of sale (POS), inventory management, foot traffic, specific stores and more.

The challenge many retailers face, however, is connecting massive amounts of siloed data across the business. Information is stuck in separate systems divided by function: finance, human resources (HR), operations and others. More than 31% of IT leaders say that one of the biggest barriers to achieving digital transformation goals is access to high-quality, usable data. When asked what is most important for enabling faster cycles between planning, execution and analysis to boost overall performance, the most common response was technology to break down data silos.

To gain a comprehensive and shared view of data across customers, stores, back-office operations and more, retailers are leveraging solutions that provide self-service capabilities and customizable access controls.

Moreover, a major data and analytics trend will likely bolster the value of at-will access. As dynamic data storytelling replaces traditional predefined dashboards, non-data specialists will find it easier to leverage data insights. Augmented data management, supported by new machine learning (ML)- and artificial intelligence (AI)-backed technologies, can automatically create personalized data stories and integrate them into applications, Gartner notes. Analytics tools built into enterprise-wide data systems will translate data into easy-to-understand insights, better supporting decision making and sparking innovation and change.

But busting data silos is more than half the battle. A unified data ecosystem that offers real-time visibility and accessibility — and surfacing deep, valuable insight to take immediate action — is the foundation upon which democratized access and decentralized decision making should rest.

The value of one enterprise-wide system accessible everywhere, at any time, is highlighted by recent upgrades at PUMA, one of the world’s leading sports brands. The company brought all of its HR information and tasks into one global system, jettisoning multiple legacy systems and unlocking real-time, data-driven insights. Store managers can now build reports on employee turnover and absenteeism — two of the retailer’s key performance indicators (KPI) — whenever they want. No more waiting until the end of a month to access this data.

At-will access at the store level powers on-the-ground decision making and improved performance. Managers can easily analyze KPIs quickly to evaluate turnover and absence rates in real time, and then retool recruitment processes as needed. PUMA’s user-friendly dashboard also displays which store employees are achieving business objectives — allowing managers to identify who needs targeted training to help improve development and nurture career growth.

With the right system made accessible to the right people in the right places, connecting the dots between data and results is a highly achievable goal for retailers of all sizes.

Terrance Wampler is the group general manager for the office of the CFO products at Workday, responsible for leading the strategy and development for the Workday Financial Management suite of products. Wampler joined Workday in 2019 after spending 25 years in multiple senior roles within applications development, culminating in responsibility for ERP product strategy, product management, customer success and cloud operations. He is a recognized industry expert and evangelist on cloud-based applications. Wampler holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from New Mexico State University.

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