Deepak Jose, Global Director of Demand Analytics at Mars, shares his key achievements to date and strategic goals for 2022
Would you please start by telling us a bit about your greatest achievements at Mars over the past 12-24 months?
When I started on board at Mars, we were doing a fantastic job at descriptive and diagnostic analytics, which essentially focus on what is happening in the business and why it is happening.
A priority over the last 12-24 months was to move towards predictive and prescriptive analytics, which ask what is going to happen in the future and what are the actions we should take? This means prioritizing finding the right problem to solve over solving the problem, working in partnership with the rest of the business in a cross-functional setup, leveraging user-centricity and design thinking to reframe the problem before we go and solve it.
We moved towards a value-led approach to analytics. I’ve seen many different approaches in my career: Automation-led, where you automate a lot of data than give it to the business to generate insight; insights-led, where a central team generates insights without worrying about automation or value; then, value-led, where business problems lead the analytics strategy.
Transitioning to this value-led approach, especially in our advanced analytics team, is what I am most proud of. We want data and analytics to generate profitable growth for the company rather than generate a lot of analytical tools which nobody uses. This has led to the development of programs, such as strategic revenue management, that have driven significant value creation for the organization.
How has data and analytics maturity at Mars evolved over the past 12 months?
The pandemic accelerated the need for data-driven decision-making. At Mars, we have quadrupled the number of workstreams in analytics since the beginning of the pandemic. Why is data-driven decision-making important? Because of the importance of agile decision-making, increasing forecast accuracy and minimizing risk through scenario planning.
I like to use the story of the Choluteca River Bridge that Brett Munster used to explain disruption to demonstrate this. The Choluteca is a river in Honduras, a country that endures many hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. In the 1930s, they built a bridge over the Choluteca that was designed to withstand them all and it was very successful, one of the greatest works of architecture in the country. It even became a tourist attraction.
Then in 1998 Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras and caused severe flooding. The bridge was built to last and, though damaged, survived the storm. But the flooding caused the river to change course so that it no longer flowed beneath the bridge. The bridge survived but its original purpose had been lost.
During the pandemic, many of us have found that the problems old systems were built to solve no longer exist. We need to make sure that our data and analytics capabilities are built to adapt rather than built to last, otherwise, we will be stuck with expensive investments that no longer serve a purpose – like the Choluteca Bridge. We do it by building the capabilities in a reusable, ‘white box’ and an interconnected manner which will help us to drive agility.
What advice would you give an aspiring data and analytics leader to help them prepare for the role?
The perception of data and analytics professionals has dramatically changed in my career. We used to be thought of like the cooks who flip burgers at a fast-food chain, hidden out of sight and delivering orders without playing a role in integral decision-making.
Now, we are like Michelin-starred chefs. It’s expected that we will be present with the customers, describing our process and guiding their experience. Our ability to explain our work is just as important as being able to deliver what has been ordered.
The days of data and analytics folk sitting somewhere in the back office are gone. So for a data analytics professional to be successful, they must have the expected skill in math, technology and business but also storytelling. The power of a good story is what gives those skills impact, it’s what allows you to convince stakeholders of the value of your work.
What will your key priorities be in 2022?
One of the primary areas I’m passionate about is to attract and retain the best analytics talent. We want Mars to be the number one destination in the CPG industry for all the data scientists in the world.
On top of that, I want to continue to emphasize the importance of connected insights. The pandemic accelerated us towards a shrinking, omnichannel world. People are shopping online and at the same time, people are still shopping in the stores. As we continue in the omnichannel direction, you need to have connected insights if you want to build a competitive advantage.
Let’s put it in a simple question: if you have one dollar to invest, where would you put it? A brick-and-mortar trade promotion? The media? Shopper marketing? Coupons? E-commerce channels? Our biggest focus in 2022 is going to be using connected insights to answer such questions.