By: Brad Howarth, researcher, speaker and author
Many organisations claim to be data-driven these days. But to be truly data-driven, that needs to be reflected not just in the processes of the organisation, but its culture as well.
For Wendy Walker, the Singapore-based head of global expansion at the business software maker Intuit, that means every person in the organisation should have access to the right data needed to make better decisions for the business and the customer.
“Data should be ubiquitous and accessible anytime, and the organisation’s culture should allow for decisions to be made to move the business forward with what the market is asking for,” Walker says.
In her time prior to joining Intuit, Walker witnessed first-hand what she describes as a toxic tendency in organisations to adopt a culture that shirks agility and fails to respond quickly to change, relying on business practices that have “always” worked in the past.
“Over time I have seen great companies fail to grow and flourish by not utilising data or analytics to anticipate and deliver solutions for customers’ unmet needs,” Walker says. “On the other hand, in the past 10 years I have witnessed some incredible innovation stories from organisations that have invested, listened and transformed their customer solutions.
"Since we started, we have never stopped disrupting ourselves, re-imagining and recreating our core products for a changing world."
“For example, Amazon has reinvented itself in a variety of ways, from creating the Kindle to four-hour delivery, with customer benefits that are unmatched in e-commerce.”
At Intuit, data-driven innovation is applied directly to the company’s mission of improving the financial lives of its customers.
“We have grown and thrived for over thirty years by constantly transforming and re-inventing ourselves,” Walker says. “Since we started, we have never stopped disrupting ourselves, re-imagining and recreating our core products for a changing world. This constructive dissatisfaction has allowed us to transform from DOS to the Web, to mobile, to the cloud -- and fend off wave after wave of competitors.”
Walker has built her career around analytics, business strategy and creative roles, developing a creative leadership style that has led her into roles building, growing, refreshing and transforming brands.
Her role at Intuit sees Walker heading up its global expansion team, which has primary responsibility for finding new markets and building the business from the ground up.
A key component of this role is understanding what makes the customer tick and what is happening from an environmental aspect, then providing a solution to address these insights.
"Listen, act and learn. That sounds obvious, but in reality, that’s not what’s happening."
This starts with deep customer empathy – the practice of immersion in their lives to understand their pain points – gained through time spent talking with small businesses and accountants in their homes or offices through regular “Follow me Home” and “Follow me to the Office” visits.
“We use these visits to understand their business challenges and gain valuable insights on how we can help,” Walker says. “We also share their feedback with our product development team so we can continually enhance our products and support them.
“As well as the “Follow Me Home” visits we have developed innovative approaches that ensure our work is focused on solving our customers’ biggest pain points.”
Walker says the use of data results in daily changes to the company’s marketing, from how it invests in particular channels to the messages it uses. But then the use of data is itself something that is constantly changing.
“By always scrutinising what is resonating and what isn’t, we are becoming more aligned to the needs of the customer and ultimately being able to make instantaneous decisions in real time on both a brand level and product usage level,” Walker says.
“Simultaneously, all Intuit employees in every department, are continuously tracking emerging technological trends with the goal to find the right data and implement the right technology, at the right time, to solve our customers’ real-life problems. Our innovation sweet spot comes when we use cutting-edge technologies to transform difficult, high-stakes problems into simple solutions.”
One example, currently in beta in the US, is QB Assistant – is an AI-powered voice assistant that helps customers find answers about their finances in a fast and natural way using spoken language.
“You can ask it ‘how am I doing this month’ or ‘how much did I make this month compared to last month’,” Walker says. “QB Assistant will understand the context and provide the answer you are looking for.”
But while data might be the lifeblood of Intuit, Walker readily acknowledges it is useless without the ability to take action– and that comes back to the organisation’s culture.
“Listen, act and learn,” Walker says. “That sounds obvious, but in reality, that’s not what’s happening. Analyse your reporting and how it’s being used. Figure out what people are resonating toward and what gets ignored. Then learn from the decisions you have made, even if at the time they were not the right ones.
“That's how you thrive the next time around.”