“The impact that Data Analytics (DA) is having on the world of marketing and customer engagement is nothing short of seismic.  According to research firm Gartner, 48% of companies have invested in Big Data in 2016 so we’re effectively moving from the era of Mad Men to Math Men (and women). Predictive Analytics, Exploratory Data Analysis and Cluster Modelling are phrases we’re going to be hearing much more of as customer centric business focuses on harnessing the commercial and revenue potential of DA. Now, it’s about mining data to develop insights that make your brand or experience compelling enough to purchase. The challenge for business is getting the process and function of data analytics right and matching the right talent to that need.”

That effect is already being seen across the commercial landscape and in particular within recruitment processes as the war for DA talent escalates. As Ireland Inc. embraces DA, the traditional 5 week process from first interview to job offer for this specialist talent has been condensed into days. The pace of change is rapid and it’s a challenge for business to keep up and not lose out to the competition. As a company with a motto of First to the Future we felt that now was the right time to bring industry together to talk about the challenges and opportunities offered by DA.” That’s according to Charley Stoney, Managing Director, The Alternatives Group (www.alternatives.ie), Ireland’s No. 1 marketing customer and commercial talent house which hosted a recent second breakfast meeting on the theme of “Data Analytics; Where are you on the Journey”, a follow-up to last year’s successful event.

A panel of speakers comprising Gareth Barr, Business Process & IT Manager, Electric Ireland; Yvonne Holmes, Head of Business Performance & Analytics, AIB and Marc Mullan, VP, Data & Analytics, DAA offered their expert insights on what’s described as the data analytics journey, gave their perspective on how DA functions within their respective organisations, offered advice on how to engage staff with DA and their thoughts on what future lies ahead for DA.


Put simply, the business case for DA at Electric Ireland was market competition. At its height in the regulated retail energy market, Electric Ireland had a 100% market share and 2.2 million customers. However, with the introduction of de-regulation and the emergence of new competitor brands Electric Ireland found itself in the unenviable position of losing 60k customers per month.

 Over a three year period market share fell to 55%. In order to stem such rapid haemorrhaging of business and as someone with a passion for understanding data,

Gareth was tasked with making DA a key function of Electric Ireland and building a team of experts to provide analytics, insights and next best actions that match customer needs and helped to re-build the brand’s presence in the market.

Meanwhile, DAA Group is an international business that encompasses operations at Dublin and Cork Airports (which had more than 30 million passengers 2016), managing retailing businesses at 10 international airports in North America, Europe, Middle East, India and New Zealand (plus responsibility for The Loop operations in Dublin and Cork) via its Aer Rianta International business and handling daa Group’s international airport management, advisory services and aviation training business.

With such a complex, diverse business not having a data analytics capability for a business that’s focused on enabling growth through delivering great service and value for airlines, passengers and business partners simply isn’t feasible.

As a result, data analytics helps the DAA to deliver two sets of expectations.

  1. Airlines want an efficient, attractive, welcoming and pleasant experience.
  2. Passengers want to feel safe, secure and comfortable with an easy, friendly and fast travel experience.

DA helps to understand capacity needs and so-called “pinch points” in the service delivery journey. This, in turn, alerts the system to anticipate and plan for key needs. For instance, times when more staff need to be rostered at peak times for high levels to reduce passenger wait times at security.

At AIB the simply expressed idea of having a ‘Customer First’ agenda drives and accelerates DA within a business that – according to Yvonne – “is evolving to become one led by analytics, to provide more personalised experience and enable AIB to be at the centre of customers’ financial lives.” In addition, competition from Fintech companies and their very different way of offering banking and financial services is another motivator to ensure that AIB stays ahead of the marketplace.

One of the objectives of Yvonne’s work is ‘converting insights into action’ then distilling these into ‘next best actions. She is very focused on developing and building an analytics infrastructure that enables better customer engagement, informed by analytics for AIB customers each time they interact with the bank.  Customer’s interact with AIB over one million times each day across all channels and devices.


Following a 2010 business re-structure at Electric Ireland, Gareth began a planning process that led to the establishment of a Business Intelligence (BI) Team in 2011 followed by model building in 2012-13 and a two year build of a Collaborative Master Data Management (CMDM) system that provided a cohesive platform for all the data sources within Electric Ireland.

This enables the company to collect and organise master data in a central point and distribute it across different business process and applications within its IT environment.

A strategy step change in 2016 sped up the immersion of DA within the business to a point where, by 2016-2017, DA shapes and informs the activation of customer campaigns. Gareth now has a team of 12 business intelligence experts mining and interpreting data from customer interactions and other key data sources including the “Connected Home and IoT” applications.

Having recently joined DAA, Marc is embedded in a business with an evolved belief in the central importance of data analytics to delivering commercial goals, positive customer experiences and successful business partner relationships.

Measuring the business against the 4 States of Data AnalyticsDescriptive (what happened?), Diagnostic (why did it happen?), Predictive (what will happen?) and Prescriptive (make it happen), activity happens across Human and Machine centred DA.

Their journey to date includes investment in operational and commercial self-service BI; live flight and passenger views, real-time data sharing, consolidated global retail insights; predictive demand planning & rostering forecasts and car parking customer segmentation.

Key areas of focus going forward include HR analytics, real-time predictive asset maintenance; airfield performance analytics and customer analytics to increase passenger engagement and spend.

Combined, these industry leading analytics capabilities will drive business efficiency and commercial performance.

According to Yvonne: AIB has built up its analytics capability over the last 18 years, but is still on the journey to fully leverage its power.  Within AIB, analytics operates across all key divisions and functions, and is becoming more sophisticated and embeded with time.  AIB has invested heavily in the data, tools, infrastructure and talent of the team.  They have implemented a Hadoop ‘Big Data’ environment as well as a Modelling Analysis factory powered by SAS.  They have also introduced a Marketing repository for all digital assets for use in their engagements with customers across the channels.  In the Customer Analytics team alone, they have 70 highly skilled Analysts, Data Scientists, Date Engineers, Visualisation experts and Digital Marketing Analysts.  They also have separate COEs in Finance, Risk and Data Governance.


On the crucial questions of where DA fits, Yvonne believes: It isn’t as much about the function Analytics fits into, although in AIB, being embedded within the Business Area has many advantages.  It is more important that the Leadership sponsorship of that function understands the potential of analytics and its role in growing the business

For Marc: “Analytics can take many different forms, such as describing and visualizing key trends, predicting future outcomes, and prescribing actions.

We apply advanced analytics techniques to deliver insight to the business and build reusable predictive models and segmentation to drive the performance of key business processes. What’s needed is a flexible approach where experimentation, innovation, creativity, trial-and-error, and the attitude of “fail fast, fail often, learn fast” is encouraged.  Traditional roles and organisation structures do not fit the analytics narrative. Instead, what we’re seeing is the emergence of a fluid, dynamic process where DA belongs to no-one and everyone within the business.”

Gareth’s take was: “It’s essential to spread analytics across the business to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiencies. Today, DA is present in all aspects of the business.  It’s so much in the DNA of the business that Electric Ireland staff (from top management down) are invested in applying the learnings of DA and securing an even bigger and more profitable future for the company.”


With nothing less than a battle being waged by employers to attract the best DA talent, Gareth believes that “with big consultancy firms sucking up talent at a considerable rate, business should look internally to source talent”. All of Gareth’s DA team we’re in-sourced at Electric Ireland while outsourced talent is accessed as and when needed.  Marc was in agreement saying that “it’s important to look within your own organisation to identify DA talent and to invest in upskilling. Also, it’s pragmatic to bring in expertise when needed and, if possible, look to partner with an outside business to provide missing experience on an ongoing basis.”

Charley’s view, based on first-hand experience of working, as a recruitment partner for clients, with the DA talent community is to encourage businesses to “turn the traditional HR processes on their head when it comes to this specialist area.  It’s such a candidate market out there so from the very initial stages of your recruitment process you need to have someone who speaks their language and who can ‘sell your business’ to them.

And you have to move very, very quickly so as not to lose out on the best talent.”  Their talent guidelines, developed by Adrian Clarke, DA Specialist within Alternatives are simple, yet effective:

  • Overcome the quest for perfection – they are human after all!
  • Can you demonstrate that you will follow through and action, decisions made from good data analytics?
  • Can you inspire them to want to come and work for you?
  • You’re the salesman in this scenario. Are you an “IT” organisation?
  • Peer to peer recruitment / common language
  • Personalisation of the process.
  • Speed wins…
  • Can you pave the way for disrupters?
  • Are you prepared for an agile workforce that demand flexibility?


With new Data Protection rules imminent and recent stories with international brands having cybersecurity issues, the panel had similar views. Yvonne said; ”Data Protection compliance is very important and there’s no doubt that the new rules will be challenging particularly around the areas of the erasure of customer data .”  While Data Analytics and IT security are different functions within Electric Ireland, Gareth said: “there’s a shared interest in ensuring a seamless transition to the new rules and they’re likely to have big implications for any enterprise holding data.” Marc was as succinct: “The new rules are an opportunity to re-examine how the lifecycle of information is handled and to think in terms of How Would You like Your own Information to be Treated? Also, rather than waiting for the day when they become enforceable, it’s essential that business gets ahead of the new rules, understanding and implementing them as required.”


Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (that introduces efficiencies and better results in models and prompts that are presented, for instance) were cited by Yvonne.  For Marc, a blend of Augmented Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence were the way of the future

Gareth was of the view that Robotics that help to make the DA function even more pin-point accurate are imminent.  He also pointed to a major role for the Internet of Things and the Connected Home (data from where we live) in the future.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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