Monday 27 February 2017

Big Data is now the new oil

Cathy McGennis and Barry McIntyre tell Sean Gallagher about how they are helping businesses harness data

Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher with Presidion co-founder and director Cathy McGennis and CEO Pierre Baviera. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Presidion co-founder and director Cathy McGennis and CEO Pierre Baviera. Photo: David Conachy

The buzzword in business these days is undoubtedly Big Data. From our PCs and laptops to mobile phones, social media messages and digital pictures, each of us is generating huge amounts of data on a daily basis. So much so it is estimated that 90pc of all the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone. The challenge facing most businesses is how to capture the data that is being generated by their customers and analyse it in such a way as to help predict market trends, spot emerging opportunities and find new and better ways of doing business.

Data analytics is used widely in many industries - from marketing firms, whose job it is to assess usage of their customers' websites, to managers of airports who use it to monitor everything from parking facilities to on-time arrivals and departures.

At the forefront of the revolution in data analytics is Dublin-based firm, Presidion. Set up in 1997 by partners, Cathy McGennis and Barry McIntyre, the company now employs 20 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €5.5m.

"We act as a trusted analytics and innovation partner to our clients where we help them take advantage of the game-changing benefits that such analytics can bring to their businesses," explains McGennis as she welcomes me to the company's headquarters in Jervis Street in the heart of Dublin city. "We are continuously seeing new business models coming on stream such as Airbnb in the accommodation space and Uber in the transport area. Companies are catching on to the fact that if they wish to compete in today's fast-changing world, then they need to use all the data at their disposal to improve efficiencies in their companies, reduce costs and, in some cases, come up with completely new business models."

To date, the company has focused primarily on the Irish and UK markets and among their 500 or more clients are well-known names such as the Musgrave Group, Electric Ireland, Eir, Bank of Ireland, Vodafone, Johnson & Johnson, BBC, Ladbrokes, Ericsson, Friends Life, Standard Life, G4S and Debenhams.

"We work mostly with CEOs and board level executives because the focus has to be on strategy," explains McIntyre. "We find that the best results come from companies where the executive team has been educated, are engaged and have bought into the process."

It's an approach they have adopted after many years of working with client firms and based on everything they have learned since first coming up with the idea to start their own business.

McGennis and McIntyre met while at university and are both from Dublin. She was from Terenure while he had grown up in Castleknock. They both shared a love of maths and ended up studying Management Science at Trinity College where they learned how to use the power of maths and statistics to solve business problems.

"In college, we were seen as the geeks," admits McGennis with a laugh. "Telling new people you'd meet in the pub on a Friday evening about what we were into was always a conversation stopper. Today it has come full circle and what we do has now become cool and very relevant."

After college, the pair spent the next couple of years travelling around Europe. However, by 1993 the pair decided it was time to return home. McGennis took up a data analytics role in a large marketing firm while McIntye got a job in IT. However, their aspirations to own a business led them to the establishment of Presidion.

"We realised that there was a real opportunity to set up a company that could help businesses understand the power of the data they had access to but up to that point didn't know what to do with," says McIntyre. "Up until then, people were using data mostly for reporting reasons. Most of this was in standalone software modules or programmes that looked after distinct areas such as sales, customer relationship management, logistics or finance, but we could see that the real value of the data lay in bringing all these individual data sets together. That's where the real magic happens."

The pair would face the challenge of having to first educate the market and demonstrate the relevance of data analytics to their potential customers.

"We were breaking new ground so this meant a long lead time to close sales in the early days. However, we did have some early adaptors, particularly in the telecoms and banking sectors, and we were able to build on these," explains McGennis.

In 2011, as the business developed and customer numbers began to increase in Ireland, the pair turned their attention to the UK where they opened an office in London with support from Enterprise Ireland - for whom they have great praise. The move proved an important one with two thirds of their business now coming from the UK market.

"In 2014, we hired a new CEO, Pierre Baviera. We spent a year and a bit looking for someone with the same passion we had to help transform our customers' organisations through the use of their data," says McIntyre. "He has fundamentally changed the way the business is managed by putting in structures and processes to ensure controlled growth. It also fundamentally changed the business from being owner-managed."

McGennis adds: "But we didn't do it alone. All our analysts have highly numerate backgrounds, typically with a PhD or Masters in statistics or maths. They are also passionate about helping customers improve their performance and change their way of doing business through analytics. This has been key to our success because it has enabled us to explain complex work to our clients in a real and meaningful way. However, it is really rewarding now when our customers tell us that our ability to strategically identify the business value of analytics and to deliver hands-on analytical insights is not matched anywhere on the market."

With the volume of data set to continue to double every two years, the pair believe there is huge potential for growth. They are continuing to focus on growing their Irish and UK operations and are also exploring opportunities in the US.

McGennis and McIntyre are evangelists when it comes to using data. The have a real passion for what they do and a genuine commitment to helping their clients' companies understand and utilise their own data. This is because they recognize that data has now become the new resource of the 21st century - it has now become the new oil. They know too that for most companies, the ability to harness the power of data will be as central to their success as their people and their products. The companies that realise this will be the ones that succeed in the future.

For further information: www.presidion.com

Presidion's advice for other businesses'

1 - Innovate but  fail fast  In business, you can never afford to be complacent or to rest on your laurels. You have to keep innovating and keep trying new things - and it's ok to fail too. The important thing to remember is that the faster you fail, the faster you can move on to the next thing that might just succeed.

2 - Never lose touch with your clients To succeed, you have to stay close to your customers and to the market. Never lose sight of the needs of your customers and never be afraid to ask for or to receive customer feedback. This customer feedback is the very thing that will help you to shape the future direction of your business.

3 - Magic happens when you invest in your stars It is important to invest in your team. These are the keys to your future. Coach and mentor them. Support them. When they are inspired and believe in your vision and are committed to your objective, they become the engine that will propel your business forward. That's when the magic happens.

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