The current crisis forced us to re-think how we were conducting events and led to the launch of our first Digital Analytics and AI virtual conference – Course5 Compass: Digital Takes Center Stage. Tune in to this podcast to get a quick overview on all the insightful sessions as David McBride and Megha Chaudhry reflect back on the conference.
You can also access the recorded sessions from the event by registering at compass.course5i.com/login
Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Course5 Compass podcast. I’m David McBride, Senior Vice President of Digital Solutions and Consulting at Course5 Intelligence. And I’m joined today by my colleague Megha Chaudhry, VP of Marketing at Course5. Thanks for joining Megha!
Thank you, David. It’s actually a pleasure, really looking forward to it.
We recently hosted a successful virtual event and we would love to reflect on it today. That’s why we’re here. Megha, could you tell our listeners about the event?
Oh, sure. Happy to do that. I, like you mentioned, it was our very first event, especially on the digital platform and, was absolutely a great success, keeping in mind it was the first event. So just to get started, I wanted to give some background on the need for this event. We all know by early March 2020, the coronavirus infection was turning into a pandemic. We received news that major industry events, even including Adobe or Shoptalk were being cancelled and would now be held as only online events, at Course5 Intelligence too we decided to act swiftly on the side of caution and cancelled two of our upcoming in person events. One was tied to Adobe as well. Soon large scale Shelter-in-place and social distancing measures were being adopted worldwide. Businesses were scrambling to find their foothold amid disrupted supply chains, stalled sales and dispersed employees.
We were constantly thinking, how can we truly, and substantially help our customers and our industry folks at this time. And one way to do this was by directly addressing their immediate concerns. How do we recover and regain stability in these turbulent times? How do we build the agility to adapt to changing times? and How do we pivot for future in the face of complete uncertainty? So we took a bold decision to put together a digital analytics and AI virtual conference. Digital had by default taken center stage in the new global scenario. And we decided that should be the theme of our virtual event under Course5 Compass, which is our thought leadership brand. So we called our event, Course5 Compass Digital takes Center Stage. We had a main keynote session. And we had two parallel tracks after the keynote, which were running side by side.
And then we had a closing keynote, again, the virtual conference witnessed visionary and notable speakers who shared their expertise and insights on data and digital driven world in today’s challenging times. And more importantly, shed light on how to use them to connect with your customers. The three-hour event offered a variety of sessions from individual talks to discussions, interview with experts and much more. Key tracks of our events were Data Culture and Storytelling, Analytics for Today, Fundamental Practices to Unlock Growth, and Tomorrow’s AI Today, the tagline for our event, perfectly summarized our proposition to attendees, which was Stabilize. Pivot and Recover. So that is in a nutshell, you know, our entire events, from planning, ideation to, you know, the actual event.
That was definitely a learning experience for us. And I felt like it came off really well from the content to the level of interests we got, to the technology. We had never done anything like this before. And I was really pleased with how everything came together. Thinking in terms of the content, which is kind of what we want to focus on in this conversation, to give our listeners a preview of what they can expect if they were to go through and watch some of that content, which is available on the web, we’ve archived that there for people to go back and watch.
So let’s start from the top. Our first speaker was Ajit Sivadasan, Global head of eCommerce Sales and digital marketing at Lenovo. We’ve been working with Ajit for many years, and we’re fortunate to have him provide the opening remarks at our conference. He spoke about enhancing the e- commerce customer experience with digital transformation and shared some really interesting comments. One of the things he shared early on in his remarks that really picked my interest was that most companies in the future will see a substantial part of their business coming from e-commerce.
And I think the, the current COVID-19 crisis has really underscored that and will accelerate some of the progress that Lenovo and thanks to Ajit’s efforts they’ve made over the last 10 plus years. What stood out for you from Ajit’s remarks?
David, for me, Ajit’s session was very insightful because we all know Lenovo, we all know Lenovo’s products, we use Lenovo’s products, but what many of our attendees might not know of is Lenovo’s history. Ajit gave a deep dive into the full history of Lenovo’s business from where they started to where they are now and what is their current focus and their entire transformation journey. So that really stood out to getting more perspective on you know the nitty gritties of Lenovo’s business. It was very helpful for me.
I thought it was interesting to see, the specifically, he talked about how they’ve grown 10 X since 2006. What I thought of when we shared that, remark was that he had this kind of growth trajectory over these many years, and he indicated which countries they’d expanded into in each year. And I thought each one of those countries represents significant investment in time and effort. This growth doesn’t just happen automatically. You don’t just put up a webpage and people start coming to it. It’s really, it requires a lot of care and attention.
Absolutely. And without even you know, besides the pandemic and the current crisis, how their business was kind of already prepared for what’s happening in the world today, You know, they’re catering to the new millennials, you know, the people who are very active on the digital platforms and how they’ve always been catering to them and how they’re continuously adapting and catering to, these millennials who are digitally savvy. So that was really you know helpful to understand from his perspective as well.
You can tell and yeah he called this out specifically that they’re investing in acquiring customers for life. And so they’re investing in, in the younger population, they’re thinking in terms of decades, ahead of creating relationships with students, with gamers, not to say that all gamers are young, but many of them are.And that they’re not just about pushing products, they’re, they’re really connecting with people and around their passion points, to make sure that they stay Lenovo customers for a long, long time.
Absolutely. And that’s why they are where they are.
Right. Then we’ll continue to grow and, and, provide valuable products for our customers. Should we talk about Jennifer a little bit?
So Jennifer Belissent from Forester, talked about data literacy, and we actually are planning to go deeper into her remarks in a webinar that we’re holding with her on June 9th. So we’ll, we’ll keep our remarks here short and, hope people will, listeners will attend our webinar. Where they will have an opportunity to interact with Jennifer through a Q & A, but one of the themes of Jennifer’s remarks at our conference was around, the fact that everybody wants to use data better and not everybody but, significantly high percentage, but a similarly significantly high percentage struggles to use data better. And she shared some suggestions for how people in the data world can use principles of data literacy to improve their data practices. Is there anything in particular that stood out for you that you want to call out in advance of the webinar?
So her entire session was pretty interesting, David. But I want to keep it very short. You know, it was a great privilege for us to have a distinguished analyst from Forrester join our event and, you know, spare time to talk about data literacy. And that’s important. I want to keep it short to have our attendees register for her webinar, which is coming up on 9th June and you know, attend that webinar to get more insights on data literacy. So I’m just going to keep that short. It was a prelude and I would really want everyone to register and attend her webinar.
Right. Yeah. She’s, she’s definitely going to go deep into concepts on about the importance of people and process alongside technology and data and so please do turn in on June 9th to to hear more. Why don’t we talk about the tracks? So after Ajit and Jennifer, we broke up into groups. We basically had two rooms where people could go into. You curated and hosted one of those tracks. And I did the other, I didn’t get to attend yours. So I’d love to hear more about it.
No problem. Absolutely. So, the forest track, which I was hosting was the pivot track, which basically had our speakers talk about finding virtue and constraints. It was about analytics for today. Most of them spoke about leveraging data and analytics to create growth strategies for tomorrow. David, I love to talk about all the speakers and their sessions briefly as well. So in this track, we started with a fireside chat between our speakers. Rajneel Kumar, who is the business head of expansion projects and products at Zee5, which is one of the major, video streaming platforms in Asia. He was joined by an Anees Merchant of Course5 Intelligence. Anees is EVP of Applied AI & Digital at Course5 Intelligence. This session was pretty interesting because it talks about how OTT players are continuously innovating. You know, in this time we all are stuck to different OTT platforms.
We’re on our couch watching Netflix, Amazon prime, multiple platforms, he spoke about what goes on behind the scenes. They have to innovate with new formats and content choices time and again. Most importantly, how everything is about hyper-personalization for them. Everything is focused on users, videos, different formats, devices. And the core is data, AI and technology. You know, they’re never recreating. He spoke about how they’re always inventing, which was very interesting. Then, we had our next speaker on this track, which was Nigel Beighton from Camelot group, who has been in CTO and CIO roles variously in B2B and B2C companies for 20 years. It was very different to have someone from the technology background. Nigel shared with us, very useful advice on how the CTO needs to work closely with the marketing and other teams to identify the right business indicators and also streamline data pipelines to optimize insights systems.
He gave a lot of insights into day to day working of a technology leader and how the technology teams need to work extensively to optimize the customer journey. For example, you know, what caused the downtime? What caused the customer journey to get stalled? How this site is performing? What vulnerabilities and security issues exist? What’s working, what’s not working and how everything is purely based on data. CTOs need to understand the underlying cause based on data and how important are these insights in tech operations, which was, you know, very different because most of the speakers were talking about analytics and he was one technology leader was talking about how analytics and data are important for the technology arm of the company.
It’s always a little bit interesting to me about to hear how, or to think that we, we don’t on the analytics side, we don’t often think in terms of core technology, like the extent to which site uptime or what’s causing downtime. Some of these operational metrics don’t really flow through into our analysis of customer behaviour, but they’re so closely linked. I think it’s an opportunity for us to maybe expand our field of what we’re looking at. So I’ll definitely be going back and looking at Nigel’s remarks.
Absolutely. And it opened my eyes being in marketing that how even we need to work with the technology team. So this event, we extensively worked with our IT teams to, you know, make sure technology wise, everyone had a seamless experience. So, you know, it’s very important for the support teams, marketing and technology to work hand in hand. So it was definitely a very very helpful for me as well. Okay. Then moving on, in the pivot track, our next speaker was Alex Robertson, who is Vice President, Enterprise data and analytics at Davids Bridal. And, you know, we all know how retail has been one of the businesses most hit by social distancing and Alex had some great info for other retailers on how to stay afloat right now and pivot for the future. David’s Bridal per say has been in business since 1950. And what was really interesting in a session was to understand how they’re preparing for the future.
People will not be coming to the stores easily now, so they have to reach them, whether it’s with display advertising, emails, just to make sure they feel safe coming back in, you know, basically talking about how they are sanitizing, everything. Things will move to maybe appointment only, and some might even move to home trials and how marketing needs to change. Customers won’t be the same anymore. They need to find ways to cater to them and be engaged with people who’ve gone in hibernation mode. Marketing especially for the retail businesses right now really needs to be reinvented to cater to the new normal. And I think that’s the case with most of the retail brands right now. So his session really helped to give a different perspective on what will need to be done from marketing, you know, side.
So was he, it sounds like he was, it sounds like, sorry, sounds like he was having a, taking a kind of an optimistic approach, like there’s challenge in the current moment, but there’s, ways around a lot of those challenges. Is that fair?
Absolutely. That’s fair. Absolutely. So everyone, and that is one thing that I think struck a chord with most of our sessions, David. Everyone talked about challenges and how they’re using those challenges to kind of turn the wind. So definitely he also was of the opinion that, you know, they’re still going to stay afloat. They’re still going to, pivot to the future, addressing all the challenges and just, you know, reinventing the marketing wheel to kind of stay afloat.
Then our next track was the accelerate track. For the pivot track, we had those three speakers and then we moved on to accelerate track, which was primarily focused on strategies to prepare for tomorrow. Our speakers spoke about how deployment of AI in robust sustainable ways today will be central to our survival and growth as we head into the future. And, for this track, our first speaker was Sameer Dhanrajani. Sameer, who is the CEO of AIQRATE, which is a bespoke Global AI and Consulting firm.
His session was interesting and had a lot of videos, a lot of examples. And he explained through various examples in customer experience that we need to think of human first, not AI first. I think many people were jumping on the bandwagon and missing the point. The new normal in strategy and business transformation will not come from just AI. And AI alone will not solve all the problems. It’s a combination of data engineering, behavioural science, and AI that will, you know, win the situation. So it was pretty interesting to see the message he was trying to communicate. And, the last speaker Sorry David, you were saying something.
No, that’s sounds really’Uh, it’s an interesting perspective.
Yep, totally. We all are giving AI a lot of importance, but definitely there’s a combination that goes behind for AI to win. Last speaker, obviously was my favourite, Sushant Ajmani who is Vice President of Product Development at Course5 intelligence. So Sushant explained how for some sectors this time has opened new possibilities to challenge the status quo and pivot the business in new direction. He also reflected and gave examples of the economic crisis during swine flu pandemic and explained how optimization was the secret weapon for survival and is the secret weapon during any humanitarian crisis and financial meltdowns. Data insights have become very important more now than ever and how companies are asking for faster insights now. It’s all about insights first culture, speed to insight, adoption turnaround time is the key. He also spoke how Course5 Discovery, which is helping some of the leading companies with the data driven decision making, which is the core of it. So obviously from insights perspective from, you know, the business perspective, his session was very interesting. He had to keep it short because we were running out of time. He had a lot of questions that came out for the discovery platform as well. And maybe we will follow up with all the attendees who had questions. We had to cut it short because we had to move on to our closing keynote, which was by Dr. Mohanbir Sawhney.
The nice things about.. Oh, sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.
No, no, David, you go ahead.
Yeah, I was just saying, or thinking that one of the nice things about Sushant being a little rushed is that, we know how to reach him and we can put him in touch with anyone who wants to talk about those concepts. And we know that he loves to talk about, using AI to generate insights more quickly. So easy to continue that conversation.
Sure, absolutely. Anytime. So these were my tracks. Obviously we should move on to your tracks. I would love to hear more before I get onto the recordings.
Yeah. So, similarly two tracks, back to back, very interesting comments from our speakers. We had the alignment track followed by the recovery track. So, in the alignment track, we were favoured with Leah Weiss and Gabby Steele from Data Culture. At Data Culture they’re focused on using data and data culture to make sizable impact. So they talked about solving $10 million problems for using data. Now for a really large company, $10 million might not be sufficiently representative to get anybody interested. For a smaller company, $10 million may be larger than their revenues. So $10 million was kind of a placeholder. It could be bigger, it could be smaller, but the idea is to get people from across companies to have collaborative discussion to take a solution-first approach. I’m sorry, not a solution- first approach, but more of a business impact approach.
They talked about how it’s common for people to take solution first approaches and think about how I am going to solve a problem, instead of thinking about how solving the problem will help me grow my business or help improve customer satisfaction. So in their experience, both of them having worked at ‘We Work’ and now out on their own, they talked about how they use this collaborative methodology to solve big data problems. So really interesting and I definitely encourage everyone to go back and look at this one.
Which is definitely interesting, David. Collaboration is one of our core values as well. And obviously I do understand that collaboration is the key, especially during this time. Did they give some insight on how they are bringing all the people together? How do they collaborate with different people and bring them together?
Yeah, they basically start with one week consulting engagements where they’re onsite, or at least engaged if things are remote for pretty much the whole day for that one week. And at the very beginning, they get people together and they have some icebreaker kind of activities and they find the problem and they kind of break up into smaller teams and go about picking the big problem. And then at the end of the week, they present to executives from the company, several different solutions. And then the executive basically says, let’s do that one, that one, and that one, uh, maybe this other one, hold off on that. So it’s kind of a hackathon format. And then they basically by doing so they’ve brought people together who otherwise wouldn’t be working together to solve problems and created the spark of momentum to then go solve the problem.
Super, that’s pretty interesting. I’m definitely going to listen to their session.
It really is interesting. Brent Dykes spoke next. He’s an analytics expert and an author with past roles at Adobe and before that Omniture as well as Domo. He is a published author. He’s written several books. His most recent book is called ‘Data storytelling: data, narrative and visualization. He talked about how all of these come together. And he talked about the intersection between data and narrative and visualization. He mentioned that the intersection between data and narrative. If you think of this as a three circle Venn diagram and the area where the data circle and the narrative circle overlaps, that’s sort of ‘the explaining world’ and where the data circle and the visual circle overlaps, that’s ‘the enlightened aspect of things’. So when you use data and visualization together, you’re helping to enlighten people about the anomalies and trends.
And then the intersection between visuals and narrative is ‘the engage’ category or territory. So that’s where storytelling really takes an important role. He talked about how all of these together, data, narrative and visualization is what’s required to lead to change. He says that we often hear statistics, so that might just be data, but we feel stories which is narrative and visualization. And so by capturing human element, people’s resistance or shields come down when there’s a story associated with the problem that’s trying to be solved. So he also provided an interesting framework around storytelling. So I’ll let you and our listeners tune into that too, to get the high level of what that framework is all about.
Oh, absolutely. And I’m definitely going to look at his book as well, which is also on our event page, the one you mentioned, ‘Data Storytelling’ because storytelling is part of our messaging as always. So definitely will be a big help. I’m going to check it out.
Yeah. Definitely worth checking out.
It’s on my nightstand and it’s a good read. Our third and final speaker of the alignment track was James Oliver, who is at Rakuten rewards, formerly known as Ebates. So James focused on creating a self-service data culture. And for me, James was a perfect concluding speaker for this track, because he drew from examples from pretty much everybody else that we had heard from him, including Jennifer. He talked about how over the last five months, a really short period of time, they’ve completely changed the direction of how their company sources and relies upon data. Whereas in the past his team, the analytics team was forced to answer lots of questions. They realized they didn’t have enough people to, to answer all those questions. They also recognized that their CEO was very passionate about everyone being part of solving problems with data.
So they created a number of tutorials programs, trainings, office hours, contests, all around helping people kind of learn the tools, but also have the confidence to go into whatever tool, write SQL queries, for example, to get the data that they need to make decisions on their own because they know the business problem best. He talked about how the importance of top down encouragement from their CEO was just paramount to have that support but that on its own also wouldn’t do enough. They had to have kind of this, this bottom up skills development to make this successful as well. I was really impressed with the diligence and the energy and the positivity and optimism that James has infused in the team there at Rakuten rewards.
Wow. Really interesting. And what I’m learning with all of these sessions, David that our theme was Digital at center, but we know that the data is and always has been at the center as well. So most of these sessions do talk about, you know, how data is at the center of everything, which is super exciting.
Right. Yeah, so I think maybe if digital is at the center, data might be at the center of digital because digital is inherently measurable. So our next track was the recovery track. We heard from two speakers here, the first of which was Nathan Anderson from Franklin Square Investments. He talked about the art of challenging assumptions and several other things. But what really stood out to me was the importance of culture and challenging assumptions. He said that it’s common to think in terms of asking five whys or three why, asking several level of why something is the way it is. But he also suggested that in order to be effective in those conversations that we kind of have some ground rules that were of a common understanding within a company. So one idea he posited was that it’s important to ensure that everyone knows that when you’re disagreeing with someone you’re not attacking them as a person you’re testing the idea. So his language was attack ideas, not people. I think attack might even be, a bit strong of a word it’s sort of more along the line of testing or evaluating. He suggested that it’s important that we companies make it safe to disagree. It’s okay to have different opinions and that we practice good faith, that we be willing to be wrong ourselves, that we are willing to challenge our own assumptions and to learn along the way.
Yeah, like they say that there is no such thing as too many whys. So it’s all good.
Right. And then our last speaker in this track was Elea Feit, who’s a professor of marketing at Drexel University in Philadelphia in the US. She talked about AB testing when your sample size is very small and she’s actually created a formula that shows how sample size as taught in statistics textbooks is in her words either wrong, or maybe at the very least answering the wrong question. This was a very real world concept from someone in the academic world. She and her co-writer who she wrote a paper with on this topic, basically focused on maximizing profits instead of as you often find in statistics, trying to figure out which treatment A or B in an AB test is better. You don’t necessarily have to know, which is absolutely better. You just have to know which is going to yield the most profits for your organization. And the other area that where her model differs is that it considers the cost of running the test. And that’s not necessarily part of traditional literature on and formulas on AB testing. So through that, she’s been able to show that it’s possible to run tests with a much lower sample size requirement, which is really important and helpful for companies that are either smaller or they’re testing a segment that’s small, or they’re concerned about disrupting their existing channel. And it was in like 11 minutes, a really short presentation, she gave some great insight and ideas. And for those who are interested, of course, she’s written and spoken extensively on the topic. They can go and check out her material and more details there.
Yeah, I’m sure. And I was really looking forward to her session primarily, more like marketing training for me. She’s a professor, so I’m definitely going to tune into her session and check it out.
Yeah, definitely do. So, as you mentioned earlier, these last two were both a little bit on the short side, in my track and yours, because we were all excited to get it in here from Dr. Mohanbir Sawhney, who is a professor of marketing at Northwestern University. He’s also a Course5 advisor. The title of his talk was ‘Sharpening the spear: strategies for leveraging the lockdown’. Curious to hear what thoughts and insights you had on Professor Sawhney’s remarks.
David, for me, what always stands out about Professor Sawhney is the energy he brings on the table. He was the last session for the day and people were in marathon sessions for two and a half hours prior to his session. And he was the apt closing keynote for our event. The energy he got and specially the advice, and especially in today’s time, his session was so apt. The thing that really stood out for me in the session was, he gave a lot of personal examples of what he’s been doing, you know, whether it’s investing in people or technology or his own customer experience with whether it’s his car, you know, there were some great learnings for competing brands as well in his session. He’s snatching on talent, investing in people more so now than ever, which was pretty interesting. He spoke at length about digital disruption in different sectors. How servicization has taken a big center right now, products are incorporating services. And lot of services are incorporating some product models which was pretty interesting for me. And, we are really glad, we have someone like Professor Sawhney on our strategic advisor’s team to help us guide for our business as well, because he comes with such great insights. What part of his session stood out for you?
I agree. So as I was thinking about his remarks, I landed on the same phrase, ‘the energy’ that you mentioned. I remember feeling as I was listening to him and I moderated this. So, I was just super engaged and excited and texting some of my coworkers. Like, can you believe this? This is such a great idea, we should do this. I loved his optimism. His ‘I can do this’ kind of attitude. The idea of when he was talking about snatching up talent, I think it’s well known that there are a lot of people out there looking for work. And some companies are already in a place where they can hire them. Others may not be in a place where they can hire them, but he suggested that if you can’t then consider leveraging their expertise for contract work.
I liked the idea of how he had thought through even past the first initial obstacle that some people might experience. I thought it was really interesting when he shared his example of Jio’s light mobile app. He’s on the board for Jio. And he shared that, given the COVID-19 crisis in India they needed to have ways of activating, adding minutes on people’s devices. So they created a mobile app and added basically a million entrepreneurs in a six week period of time that they could leverage as new points of sale to represent the brand in various communities without having stores open. So that was a great example of transforming internal operations. And now they’re looking at having that be a permanent state. So these optimizations and improvements that we’re finding in our businesses, we should be looking at them, not just as temporary during COVID, but how they can benefit our business for the long-term going forward.
Right. And he gave so many examples, just like Jio. When I was talking about the personal examples he gave, he was talking about the contact-less customer service at Tesla and how that can be a great learning for other players like Audi or BMW. So that was interesting as well.
Yeah, for sure. I liked the idea that he suggested we consider, how we can be trusted advisors to help navigate through the current crisis. And there’s probably something, whether it’s in our business or in our communities, for us to through our output or through our optimism, through our expertise to be trusted, to be part of the solution, instead of just passive, standby Watchers, I guess, observing how the world is unfolding around us. So definitely a really interesting comments from, from Dr. Sawhney.
Great learnings for management things.
So that wrapped up the content. What’s next? Anything that you’d like to share as far as how we’re going to take these learnings and this experience into the future?
Yeah, David, I think this was just the beginning. We were all very encouraged with the response, and I’m sure looking at the response and the kind of attendance we had, we will be coming up with more of such events. We will definitely want to continue to inspire, educate, and connect billion minds from across the boundaries. So I would just say and ask everyone to just stay tuned and keep an eye on our website, which is Course5i.com and all our social media handles to stay abreast with our latest developments and see what’s coming up next, obviously along with our webinar which is up next on 9th June.
Yeah. We’ll, we’re excited to welcome Jennifer back and spending some more time with her. I think you’ll find, that every moment you invest in reviewing this content is time well spent. So I encourage all of our listeners to take the time to review that as well. Actually a pro tip here, if you’re so inclined, and you’re trying to consume a lot of content in a slightly shorter period of time, you can always accelerate your playback time in YouTube, to higher speed, so you can actually consume an hour’s worth of content in less time than an hour. So, that way you might power through some of that content.
That’s a good tip David, and definitely for all those who are interested to watch and learn more, they need to stop by our website at compass.course5i.com/login, and they can register to access the recordings of all these sessions. In addition, they can also find the link to register in the description of this podcast. Plus if there are any questions, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and register for our upcoming webinar.
And of course, we’re present on Twitter and LinkedIn. So there’s all kinds of channels where people can reach us. Megha thank you so much for joining me for taking the time to share with me what you learned and what you observed in your track. I hopefully was able to provide some value to you and to our listeners as well. To all of you out there, this is Course5 Compass, the review of the ‘Digital takes center stage’ virtual event. So thank you very much for listening and have a great day.
Thanks so much for listening. Thank you so much, David. It was a pleasure.