How Data Science is at the heart of modern consulting

Data Science has firmly established itself at the heart of modern consulting. As a result, the industry’s skills requirements are changing fast.  But the mass application of consumer data, which has lead to the subsequent shift in consulting’s service offering, was not significantly recognised until MCA Boardroom Breakfast speaker and one of the UK’s stand-out experts on consumer data, Edwina Dunn, stepped into Tesco’s Head Office.

Back in 1994, Edwina and husband Clive Humby, transformed the retail sector through the invention of the Tesco Clubcard. In an attempt to knock Sainsbury's of the top of retail market, Tesco wanted to create a new loyalty card and invited the couple to look at their data. Following a presentation to the board, a stunned silence was broken by Lord MacLaurin, then Tesco Chairman:  “What scares me about this is that you know more about my customers after three months than I know after 30 years.”

Edwina Dunn, Chief Executive of Starcount and Founder of dunnhumby

Edwina and Clive’s company, dunnhumby, was one of the first agencies in the UK dedicated to analysing consumer data. That pitch established them as one the country’s pioneers of the data revolution, of which management consultancy is now immersed in.  

At the time, customer data was not valued or stored but simply discarded following a transaction. Tesco embraced the dunnhumby approach for its Clubcard programme and so it became the first mass customization marketing programme in the world.  Customer insight and Clubcard rewards helped to transform Tesco from a secondary player in the UK to the significant market and global leader it is today. Dunnhumby were soon signing similar deals with supermarkets around the word which saw its workforce double year-on-year.

Today, consumer data is fast becoming one of the most valued resources for any modern organisation. Every minute 350,000 tweets are created, Amazon makes $222,000 in sales, and almost a million swipes are recorded on Tinder[1]. Last year the world created 2.5 Exabytes[2] of data per day; this is equivalent to filming almost 90 years of continuous video in 4K resolution. In the public sector, The Government’s Open Data initiatives have created interesting possibilities for business and have provoked useful discussions about the relationship between citizens and ‘their’ data

Modern management consultancies are switched-on to benefits of data-driven analytics and decision-making where, in an era described by Forrester Research, ‘businesses are drowning in data but starving for insights’[3]. They tap into the value of their clients’ customer data to help enable growth and change in the digital age. This is a substantial shift in the service offering of traditional consulting.

Speaking on his firm investment in data analytics, Matt Watt, Partner at EY, commented

As an audit firm, we’ve always needed a good understanding of financial data and systems. And since we are ‘technology agnostic’, we can provide genuinely independent advice on solutions, which clients appreciate.”

With Data Science now positioned at the heart of consulting, the industry’s skills requirements are changing fast. Nadun Muthukumarana, Partner at Deloitte, has observed a shift:

“We can help clients understand a lot about their businesses more quickly and effectively than ever before, in some cases almost immediately, even before we venture near the shop doorten years ago, we didn’t hire people with PhDs in data science. Now we can’t find enough of them. So academia is increasingly gearing towards producing enough people with these skills for us and the other commercial organisations.”

This was reaffirmed by Louise Fletcher, Partner in Financial Services at PwC Consulting.  “We have real expertise in operationalizing data insights. And we’re expanding that capability. Over the next two years, we will be recruiting a thousand data scientists”.

As well as a shift in recruitment, consultants are also investing heavily in data technology. Nigel Slater, Head of Consulting at KPMG: “Technology of course is key, particularly around data. There’s lots of unstructured data in businesses. We can marshal and interpret it, to help improve customer experience, as well as working with clients to identify the data sets they can monetize.”

The increased automation of data analytics has seen firms make great savings for clients. Big data will continue to make a lasting impact on consulting for years to come.

Speaking at the MCA Boardroom Breakfast, Edwina Dunn discussed the role of data in understanding consumers. She currently is using her expertise in analysing social media data as CEO of start-up Starcount and supporting the “Your Life Campaign” which seeks to promote the STEM subjects to 14-16 year olds across the UK. 

The Boardroom Breakfast Series is open for free to senior representatives from MCA member firms. Details of the 2017 events will be announced in the new year.

Written by MCA Researcher Luke Cummings and Markering Manager Kevin Kear, as part of MCA Boardroom Breakfast Series.


[2] Approximately 2500000000gb of data.