Premal Desai, The Gym Group’s Head of Data and AI, shares some of his key lessons from the past year and how the experience will shape his team’s strategy going forward
Gyms have been among the hardest hit businesses through the pandemic. Factors such as on-and-off lockdowns and social distancing have tested businesses and left them with valuable lessons.
In this week’s Business of Data podcast, Premal Desai, Head of Data and AI at The Gym Group, talks about the challenges he’s faced and what lessons he’s drawn from them for the future.
One of Desai’s biggest takeaways during this time includes not only relying more on organizational data but, most importantly, pairing analytics insights with employee feedback to make the most of the information at hand.
“The power of data comes when you mix the two – it’s the Holy Grail,” he says. “We’re trying to merge the two as much as possible because, while data gives you one perspective, it’s not always a holistic view.”
This feeds into the need for data literacy within organizations such as The Gym Group, something Desai thinks will only grow in importance over the coming year.
“I’d love to focus more on data literacy,” Desai notes. “It’s something I’m passionate about; bringing different parts of the organization up to speed and convincing others that there’s value in literacy. It means creating an organizational standard of how to use data and thus enable people to do better jobs, enabled by data.”
Navigating a Tough Environment with Data
Having a flexible team and finding team members who are comfortable with uncertainty has proved essential throughout the pandemic.
“[When the pandemic struck] we were trying to predict things,” Desai says. “There was a lot of planning needed around things such as capacity and space utilization while maintaining health and safety standards. It became important to take care of our members using our data.”
But Desai considers The Gym Group’s ability to lean on data as the thing that helped the company navigate the pandemic best, answering the questions no one had answers to.
He says: “There were some things that needed us to dig deep into our data landscape and there were things where we were lucky enough to have the info readily to hand. This can be credited to both luck and skill. But the fact that we were able to respond and maintain some agility proved the case that there is value in data infrastructure governance.”
While working with the data helped The Gym Group navigate 2021’s tough business climate, Desai says that the need for agile team members during this time cannot be understated.
“Data teams are used to operating in a stable environment, but clearly you need to be ready for a topsy-turvy environment, too,” he concludes. “There are people who can handle that challenge, and those who can’t. This adds to the challenge of selecting new talent as they should be able to deal with ambiguity and remain flexible. These soft skills are proving to be almost as important as having the core skills of a data analyst or a data scientist.”
- Data and people working together is the Holy Grail. Insights are most valuable when used to improve staff decision-making
- Prepare your teams for unpredictable environments. The pandemic threw usual working practices out the window, reminding companies to ensure staff have the skills to handle uncertainty
- Get your ducks in order first. Desai credits having foundational structures in place (such as clear data governance processes) as vital for to maintaining agility in a crisis