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The lure of big data and the importance of people

Blog from Helen Salmon, Group Sales Operations Director, Atalian Servest

If you’ve read anything on technology trends for the FM sector recently, then you will no doubt have come across a plethora of content expounding on the need for the industry to get much more adept at deploying systems that capture data about people and the places in which they operate. These trends are both in relation to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the practical usage of the information that they generate. In terms of capturing, processing and utilising data these trends are not unique to the FM marketplace. At Atalian Servest, as I’m sure is the case at many service providers, we see our clients trying to come to terms with this new digital reality, in relation to working out how to extract actual value from the promise of the technology.

The challenge lies in deciding what it is you do with the data and how? How do you make sense of the outside world and innovate? In my role as Global Sales Operations Director I am currently collaborating with my colleagues across 30 countries on a project that has the capture and usage of data at its heart. It involves multiple languages and more time zones than I care to think about! This project has allowed me to examine the role of a sales operation function within an international FM organisation and more specifically how we can pragmatically start to effect serious change when it comes to practically capturing and using data.

For me, the key issue is the way colleagues are trained. Traditionally, our industry focuses training on the functional aspects of how software works, rather than helping people take responsibility for learning about why they should take the opportunity to upskill. We also tend to get lulled into a false sense of security, believing that we can ‘software our way out of a problem’. Deploying another layer of technology is not going to magically improve the FM capability or provision within a business though. At Atalian Servest we have ensured that we have placed huge emphasis on educating our workforce that it is the strategic combination of people, process, and places applied to a very clear ‘why’ that is the real endgame.

My mantra is that ‘data is, as people do’. As mentioned, we, as an FM provider, and our clients, are bombarded with content about the need for ‘big data’ and ‘data science’ competencies. In my experience this can feel all too abstract to the majority of us. What does big data or data science really mean in practical terms? Maybe the focus should shift to effective data, rather than being hung up on ’big data’… My challenge is developing teams of people who are competent ‘data wranglers’. Our datasets are never uniform, standardised, or correlated to a bigger picture, therefore my view is that we need to encourage people to really see the data they manage from an outside-in perspective, so that they understand that their information plays an important part in the wider whole. As we encourage and support this perspective, we can aid the development of skills in data manipulation and in the realisation that this shouldn’t be a task that is completed to a monthly deadline or as a chore, but that the power is in the data and in our ability to effect change with customers in a real time fashion.

Developing as a data driven business is a journey, and this is a way to begin to move forward through corporate inertia towards effective data management. Instead of relying on a new, small cadre of data scientists we should attempt to develop, support and train a larger proportion of our own people with the skills to generate their own insights. Sales operations has an effective role within FM to be an agent of change, it isn’t to just be the sole custodians of the system of record and the creators of dashboards. We have the unique fortune and responsibility to have insight into how our services impact our customers. In a way, the sales teams are the fixed point in the stream of data. In light of this, our ability to collaborate with our account managers and operators, HR and learning and development teams means that we have the chance to constantly improve how our people understand, learn and spot opportunities to help us become successful and effective as a business, and as an industry.

About Sarah OBeirne

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