Venkat Raghavan: Powering organisations with Analytics

Venkat Raghavan | Associate Director and Global Head - Analytics | Tesco Business Services

The crux of any business lies in identifying compelling problems and their most viable solutions. Gifted are the people who have cracked the formula to run successful enterprises relying on this strategy with their problem-solving abilities. One such leader who has embarked on an enterprising journey across the globe, spanning multiple businesses, is Venkat Raghavan, an expert in analytics. He carries an impressive track record of successfully leading high-growth portfolios and belie ves that businesses grow by growing individuals and their thoughts.

Tesco Business Services (TBS) is the global services arm for Tesco, a 100+-year-old leading multi-national retailer with a well-established presence in Europe and the UK. As an Associate Director and Global HeadAnalytics, Tesco Business Services, Venkat has already pro ved his mettle as an expert in problem-solving with the power of data.

Let’s dive into find out the reasons behind Venkat’s success in driving the power of analytics towards the continual success of Tesco as an organisation

Opening the Gateways of the Mind

“Questions are more important than answers.” Venkat started his career as a coder but understood early in his journey that he liked coding only if he understood where the code fits in the larger problem it is solving. This made him gravitate toward asking more business questions about how things are done and how they can be done differently. The desire to ask and understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ got him into analytics early in his career, where questioning and hypothesising are the bedrocks to success.

Venkat’s career can be divided into four parts; In the first part, he acted as an individual contributor and wanted to be the best-skilled employee and compete with others in virtue of his skillset and content. In the second, where he had the opportunity to move to the USA to work directly with business stakeholders, he learned that content is only as important as the business context in which it is applied.

Midway through the journey, he started taking up roles with P&L responsibility, such as client partnering, where he realised that skill and context are only meaningful if it creates commercial value. Over the last five years, where he has played global leadership roles, he realised that content, context, and commerce are only a strategic advantage if they lead to sustainable cultural shift. He mentions “Real success of analytics should be measured by the tangible difference created for customers, colleagues and shareholders and not as a measure of scientific or technological greatness. ” The challenge was to realise the need for a shift in thinking at different stages of the career. The mentors throughout his journey gave him the right nudges to e volve the mindset to look at a continuum of 4Cs – Content, Context, Commerce, Culture.

Analytics – an Asset For Tesco

Tesco is a food retailer with over 100 years of heritage with an annual turnover of close to £55bn. As a leading multinational retailer with more than 345,000 colleagues, the company aims to serve customers daily with affordable, healthy, and sustainable food – to help them enjoy a better quality of life and an easier way of living. Tesco’s core purpose is to serve our customers, communities and planet a little better every day. Tesco has been using analytics and data science to find more opportunities to understand customers and increase profitability. One such example from his journey is the launching of one of the world’s largest loyalty programs with over 100 million members. The program created the possibility of understanding customer behaviors to offer better products, promotions, and customer service which resulted in a win-win equation for both the retailer and its customers.

From a science standpoint, Venkat is optimistic about the tremendous scope for true AI to scale to understand customers and positively influence their behaviours. The team at Tesco has prioritised personalisation as one of its key strategic priorities to better understand the needs and expectations of its customers and engage with them through the offerings with high relevance and personalisation. He shares, “We are an extremely customer-centric company, therefore, we believe that if we get the pulse of our customers right, we can align our business operations to meet them, thereby unlocking value for our customers and our business. Having said this, the path to getting there is non-trivial – the global economy is going through a highly volatile phase, and our customers face many challenges” Therefore, in a world that is shifting continuously, analytics and science are needed to understand, anticipate, and act to win in the retail industry.

Evolution and Use of Analytics

Over the last 20 years, analytics has evolved from a support entity delivering reports and MIS dashboards to a core problem-solving entity that uses the power of Forecasting, Predictive Modeling, Machine learning, and AI. Today the industry is mature enough to impact the business outcomes directly. It is recommended to look at analytics as a commercial agenda, instead of as a cost centre to build future capabilities. This shift will enable a deeper and more meaningful partnership between business and analytics to deliver tangible results.

“Technology is the largest enabler for analytics and science to evolve.” A lot of what analytics can achieve is supported by the foundation created by data and technology teams. The core use cases where Venkat and his team leverage technology are to:

  • Get more data signals about our customers, product, stores, online, and suppliers
  • Build the right analytics and science infrastructure that can make the petabytes of data accessible and get the right computing power to run large data queries as well as statistical and machine learning algorithms to solve complex problems
  • Access to the best tools/technology options to build and visualize analytical solutions.
  • Automate and deploy the analytical solutions so that they deliver sustainable value

Retail is an early adopter of data and analytics. Since the invention of electronic Point of Sale (PoS) registers about four decades ago, retail has had the gift of harnessing and analysing data to find opportunities for better offerings, pricing, promotions, and customer engagement.

Preparation for the “Next Chapter”

Analytics is a highly crowded market today. He advises young entrepreneurs, “Ensure you have a clear differentiation. For companies in the service industry, cost and quality of your work make a big difference.” There are some companies in the product space where flexibility and scalability are pivotal.

For new-age SaaS product companies, it is imperative to understand where data sits – this is an important topic, especially in retail, where data protection and privacy are serious topics.

He adds, “Often, I get emails from organisations, including startups, where the differentiation is unclear. The other suggestion for startups, especially those targeting food retail as an industry, is that our margins are pretty thin. Therefore the ability to connect capability to true P&L impact is essential. Those startups that can establish this are celebrated more than those that don’t.”

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