Can you start off just by talking a little bit about your background and how you came to be working in analytics in the first place?
Yes, I did research methods at university and was experienced at using spreadsheets and things like that, and that’s where I picked up SPSS, and then I got into survey design and have been working with it for seven or eight years now. In terms of job roles, I’ve moved around quite a bit but in similar kinds of areas with a focus on not for profit, and I’m now in a Customer Insight role working in a housing association with a team of eight. I also manage the research agency who run our survey programme, analyse the data and report back to business.
What would you say are the main challenges that face organisations like yours at the moment?
If we are to realise our ambition of building as many homes as possible, we need to continue to transform and modernise our business. We must ensure we make the most impact from everything we do; our financial decisions, the way we deliver our services, what we expect from our people and the investments we make in systems and technology. Data plays a key part in this, for instance, in helping us to review our services to ensure that they are as customer focussed, easy to use and efficient as they can be.
How do you see analytics as helping to either deal with this challenge or to improve the way that the business operates?
It’s really about understanding the customer better, more and more detailed ways of understanding data and customer feedback, understanding what customers want and being more mature, more sophisticated in the way that we look at things in terms of using different analytics techniques, thinking about how to present the data in different ways, such as using mapping software and presenting data in ways that are visually appealing.
We obviously work in the housing sector so we work with properties and so being able to visualise that is quite important. The data we hold relates to both our clients and to the properties. We have customer satisfaction data that we generate ourselves and we also have organisational data. The challenge is to use this data to gain the maximum insight about our customers and ourselves as a business.
Can you give any examples of that specific projects that show how analytics has been informed the way in which the business operates?
For example, we might analyse our different services with the aim of trying to understand what it is that drives satisfaction – perhaps it could be about repairs, or it could be about antisocial behaviour and how we deal with that. We’re really digging deep into the data, not just looking at the numbers but also looking at the verbatim comments, understanding what people are telling us and presenting that back to the heads of service who then can make the necessary changes to make it a better service, and then hopefully we see the loop continued back in the form of increased satisfaction.
Are you finding that you are making more use of unstructured data as the kind of the technology develops to make that possible?
Yes, it’s still something we want to improve on but it’s a really important part of the process for us.
Have you seen any other similar kind of changes in analytics during your career?
Yes, there’s been a significant increase in both processing power and the size of the datasets that we’re working with, as well as understanding the different uses of operational data and how helpful that can be. The other thing is the enhanced ability we have now to marry up different kinds of data.
What are the kinds of tools and techniques that are most useful to you on a day to day basis?
Quite a lot of time it’s about being able to cut the data in different ways using different filters to give you different views to help you try and understand what’s going on. So for example, if you take customer satisfaction data the output is generally going to be how satisfied the customer is but if you cut it in different ways you can start to understand what the different groupings are and see differences between different groups in terms of how satisfied they are generally.
Do you tend to focus on specific questions or do you tend towards more exploratory analysis?
It’s a bit of both – there is always going to be the production of scores and KPIs and things like that, but then on the other side we do have quite a lot of freedom to be able to delve a bit deeper into the data if it’s to the benefit of the business.
If you weren’t restricted by time or by budget or by resource are there other things you would like to be doing that you are not currently doing?
Yes, it would be great to be able to do more free text analytics and that is the kind of thing we’re going to be looking into next in terms of exploring more automated ways of doing that accurately.
If you’re looking for people to recruit into your team, for example, what are the key skills that you’re looking for in an analyst?
An eye for detail is important as well as technical abilities. Being able to manipulate data even if it’s just using Excel is definitely a big plus and a good starting point. Beyond that, the specific tools – whether someone knows SPSS or SAS for example – are not so important. Those kinds of skills are all pretty transferable if you’ve got an analytical mindset.