WPP’s data culture transformation — implementing a data philosophy and driving change

Di Mayze, Global Head of Data and AI at WPP, discusses how the creative company has driven its data culture transformation.

The transformation of business, whether digital or physical, now starts with the transformation of data and culture. Organisations need to understand where their data is and what it is, while making sure that everyone in the organisation can utilise data in an inclusive and safe environment.

WPP — the creative transformation company — has taken this step and set out on a data culture transformation journey. This has been led by the company’s first Global Head of Data and AI, Di Mayze.

Driving the data culture transformation are three pillars: 1. Data Discovery and Curation; What data do we have vs. what do we need. 2. Education and enablement in data & AI literacy, and 3. Communities and content curation.

“Our transformation is centred around people and bringing data to life,” said Mayze.

The data landscape at WPP

Before the data culture transformation drive at WPP, data — like in many organisations — was cast across the organisation.

There were pockets of brilliance distributed across WPP, but there wasn’t a place for people to come together, share insights and unlock data-led actions.

Led by Di Mayze, the plan to address this was to democratise data sets, add more skills and give the data talent a platform to come together, share challenges, great work and contribute to WPP wide initiatives such as the creation of its data ethics guidelines.

“Data alone has no power, it’s the recommendations you make or the skills and storytelling that you put on top of it, that creates an impact,” she said.

To bring the disparate sets of data and skills together, WPP began cataloging their extensive volumes of data. The majority of AI and data-led projects fail, because cataloging, curating and inventorying is so challenging, which is why this process was crucial.

With this in mind, Di Mayze led a discovery incubation period to identify where the data was and what it was within WPP. So far, they have curated 450 different data sets, cataloging the metadata and sample data, which will be extended into a knowledge infrastructure over the next 12 months. Various skill sets, processes and analytics approaches will then be added to drive creative transformation of this data.

The spirit of collaboration is already making an impact; by utilising the data available, WPP has worked with Microsoft to develop an innovative cloud platform that allows creative teams, regardless of location, to work and collaborate seamlessly on different projects. This has been crucial during the pandemic.

Data democracy: bringing everyone on the data journey at Microsoft

Co-creation and breaking down silos to leverage data insights is easier when you have top-level support driving a data-first culture and a collaborative approach.

What is a data set? Think outside the box

It’s vital to bring everyone on the data journey, not just those with technical expertise.

Di Mayze points to the customer service teams that clients operate as an example. These teams have the closest relationships with customers. Customers choose to talk to them about their experiences and challenges. This, often, does not get fed back into the wider organisation. Instead, the customer service team should treat these discussions as data sets, which can be used to improve the customer service experience or flag issues.

Implementing this data philosophy: the challenge

For WPP and its many agencies, the main challenge has been trying to instigate this foundational change during the pandemic.

Implementing an organisation-wide change in attitude when it comes to data — a data philosophy — is very difficult. When you add the restrictions and uncertainty of a pandemic to this, the challenge multiplies.

“Even though I’ve discussed our data, philosophy and the importance of using data ethically for nearly two years now, with over 100,000 employees there are always more people within the organisation and our agencies to enroll,” added Di Mayze.

“We need to get the message across from the top-down, by sharing our work and success stories, and at the same time, make sure that the [data champions] have the time to make the cultural changes within their agencies,” she continued.

On top of this, it’s necessary to provide extensive blended learning for employees, so that the skills needed to work on the data knowledge infrastructure don’t become an afterthought.

The data translator

One way to successfully instill a strong data philosophy and drive a data culture transformation is the creation of a data translator role.

The data translator should sit between the business and technology teams, to effectively communicate the benefits of the data and how it can be used. This will help extract every byte of value from the various data sets, which will lead to new insights and actions.

“If you’re going to be a business-case obsessed organisation, you’ll probably never be a data-driven organisation because often the ROI, particularly the basics of data management and metadata management and training, isn’t immediate or always apparent,” said Di Mayze.

Organisations need this figure to explain in business terms the benefits and potential of this data-led insights to the business’ leadership and its customers.

WPP has started this journey with the creation of the Global Head of Data and AI role, but this can be taken further.

Driving creative transformation

WPP has prioritised data and technology to drive creative transformation.

As an example of this, WPP is working with Microsoft to creatively transform content production through a new Cloud Studio partnership. This innovative cloud platform allows greater collaboration between WPP’s creative teams, regardless of their location, and is just one case of data and creativity going hand-in-hand.

The organisation has done this by implementing a data philosophy that’s aimed to change leaders, employees and customers’ attitudes to data.

Enabling collaboration between teams and focusing on data literacy has been key to this.

Di Mayze explained that this has been achieved by setting up a data and AI community within WPP, where success stories are shared and celebrated across its 3000 members. This created a sustained movement within the organisation and its agencies by giving people a sense of belonging when it comes to the possibilities of data and technology.

“We have also started to change the business through improving data literacy for all. For example, we’ve just done a partnership with Oxford Business School, where 30 of our most senior executives have been nominated by their CEO’s to take an AI for business diploma,” said Di Mayze.

Initiatives like this help stir up conversations on how the role of AI and data should be accelerating, while making it more accessible to more traditional individuals and teams.

Di Mayze and Robin Sutara, Chief Data Officer at Microsoft UK, explore this theme of democrastising data and technology, along with how to create a self-service data culture in an on-demand webinar produced in partnership with Information Age.

Register here to view the presentation and fireside chat between these leading data leaders.

This article was written as part of a paid-for content campaign with Microsoft

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...