Majid Al Futtaim’s Head of Business Analytics Guillaume Thfoin explains how data became a key component of the group’s innovation strategy.
What plan did you follow to develop Majid Al Futtaim’s data and analytics capabilities?
In the beginning, it was not really a plan; it was just an aspiration to do a lot of analytics because we believe that if you want to deliver superior customer service or superior customer experience for your product, you need to understand your customers. Majid Al Futtaim has doubled in size every five years for 25 years but now, the competitive landscape is very different. The choice customers have is not only between Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates; they can buy from Alibaba or Amazon; they can stay home, binge on Netflix and order pizza from Uber Eats.
So, we first started collecting data three years ago. But to find out what we could do with data took quite a lot of time, because the businesses were hesitant to share, they were not aware of what could be done. We had to do a lot of convincing until our CEO Alain Bejjani said that all the data belongs to Majid Al Futtaim and should be used for the benefit of the entire group. We started getting a critical mass of data. If you put together our data assets from VOX Cinemas and Carrefour, we have 1.3 million households with all their purchase history across many years; and we have millions of other households with the same data across the region. We are the largest consumer panel across MENA. We had that tremendous amount of data that we started analyzing and making sense of.
What did you have to put in place to be able to collect this data?
First, we had to map out where it was and how it was collected – it was in Excel sheets, in servers, in different places. Then, we had to design a very robust data strategy which relies on three pillars that need to work together for us to be able to scale: collect data universally, within the limits of data privacy and data governance; build a robust technology to collect, host and make that data available; and develop our data culture across the group.
We were also really committed to acquiring new data sources externally. A fascinating example is our partnership with a leading payment acquirer. For any payment that goes through their terminals, we’re getting data at the credit card level – which is, of course, hashed so we don’t know the credit card number. That gives us a huge amount of external information to complement the data we have internally on what people spend on in our malls.
How are you integrating all these data sources and building data mining?
We don’t want to tell our business units to stop everything to focus on data. They keep with their current system, we take a copy of all of their data into one place – that’s your one place of truth in the company where all the data is going to be hosted and merged – we cleanse it, harmonize it, bring it together. Our master data management is very robust; and from that, we built a different, smaller data warehouse for use cases.
When you do any kind of analytics, there are three important things: data set, mindset and skillset. Data set we address by building all the data in one place. Mindset is ensuring that people understand what they have to do today to do better work, including analytics. This is done by embedding analytics within the function, making sure people don’t only use BI to look at numbers being green or red, but actually mine it and ask the right questions. Skillset is two-fold: we embed this through the Majid Al Futtaim School of Analytics to ensure that people are doing it in a better way; you also have to bring external skillset on very technical topics.
What are the processes in place to continuously enrich your data?
It is all tied together so we collect live data from all our platforms. If you go back three years ago, there was no data collected from any of the online platforms. Now, all of the platforms are connected with the same Google Analytics that rolls up together into one account. Everything that happens on our pages is tracked down. I can see what you do on VOX Cinemas and on Carrefour, tag that with your transaction offline, and learn from you on that. This is an example of our group-wide data acquisition program to collect customer and operational data through process optimization and the use of the latest technology (including IOT).