If you aren't ready to handle data internally, having an agency won't get you far

Most companies today are embarking on a journey to become data-driven but change does not happen overnight. While efforts have been made to push for data adoption and ensure employees are more data literate, it is also crucial for senior management to understand the importance of data and have internal teams collaborate to drive data integration.

Everyone in the company has to be "on the same page" about the vision of being data-driven and data integration, said Mawarni Adam (pictured right), head of brand, marketing and communications, Berjaya Sompo Insurance during the recent Digital Marketing Asia 2018 Singapore conference organised by Marketing. She added that her CEO, in particular, understands the importance of data.

However, Adam noted that one department still needs to be the "stronger driver" of data and the onus falls on the marketing team. This is because the team is on the front line of the business, representing it on platforms such as social media. As such, the marketing team needs to be a stronger driver of data to have more sophisticated and meaningful conversations.

Meanwhile, she added that while data is important, data adoption and integration also depends on employees' skillsets, the readiness and maturity of the organisation, as well as its business and product offerings. Adam said:

We can work with sophisticated partner agencies. But if we are not quite ready internally, there will be a huge gap in effectively maximising the potential of the data that we have.

Agreeing with Adam was Sirilaksana Kantha (pictured left), managing director of performance marketing agency Digital Jedi, who said every single team within the company needs to believe "wholeheartedly" in the importance of data and practice data integration.

"I think each marketer and sales person should at least be able to understand and master data analytics because they are the one working actively with the consumers and have control of the direction the brand is heading towards," Kantha said. She added that while data adoption and integration might be a move that is still new to some, it is after all an important journey that all marketers and companies should take.

In the meantime, Leann Ow (pictured centre), digital and social media senior strategist, Manulife said her Asia and global CEOs are "huge advocates" of data integration, as they understand where the industry is heading towards and believes the company has to adapt to the evolving times.

The company is striving towards having a single view of the customer but being present in over 10 markets and having many different teams can be challenging for data integration, Ow said. She added:

Leadership needs to be committed and I think a lot of collaboration needs to happen internally before we can get to this state.

According to Ow, the CEOs set the direction to take when it comes to data integration and Manulife's marketing teams collaborate closely with its technology teams to on board and test new technology, as well as drive relevant projects. "It's a form of skills sharing and we need to align on that as well, from customer service to receiving training on new tools," Ow said.

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Is there a need for an in-house data scientist team?

Manulife's regional centre of excellence comprises customer insights and analytics specialists. Ow said having in-house data specialist teams has allowed the company to obtain insights from its data and apply it to certain products, such as its Manulife MOVE customer rewards programme.

"We have information such as our consumers' health statistics and down the road, this can potentially help insurance transform from a reactive partner which only comes in when a tragedy strikes, to a proactive health partner that is possibly able to preempt diseases," Ow said.

Berjaya Sompo Insurance's Adam said while the company is working towards building an in-house data scientist team, it will take on a hybrid approach by working with data experts and agency partners. "We would want somebody internally to share and learn alongside our partners to turn around quickly if the management or any internal teams require help," she said.

On the other hand, Digital Jedi's Kantha is of the view that the idea of having an in-house data scientist team might not be relevant to all companies. She said it is important to have an agile and flexible organisational structure and as such, believes that all employees should understand how to use and analyse data. "Some organisations have data command centres and there is nothing wrong with that, if you can afford it, but I think it is a big investment," she said, adding that companies need to look at the ROI before embarking on a huge project such as this.