Big data, big deal?

The proliferation of cognitive technologies promises enhanced analytics to growing businesses. FDs need to be in charge of it, or face being displaced by it.

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Richard Young
Published: 27 Apr 2017 Updated: 13 Jun 2022

Richard Young meets Bink co-founder and CFO Greg Gormley. He explains how they’re deploying robotic process automation, big data analytics and other cognitive tech to articulate, mitigate and manage risks, cost and opportunity in the finance function and beyond.

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Data is the new fuel of business, we’re told. Of course, most FDs know that this is, at best, only partially true. Whatever else shifts in commerce, cash is the ultimate energy source.

The challenge for FDs is that the slew of new technologies built around exponentially rising volumes of data is starting to affect cash in meaningful ways. Whether it’s the investment we need to make in data and analytics to keep up, the power of cognitive technologies to drive efficiency, or the doors data opens, you can’t afford to be left behind.

Greg Gormley knows this better than most: he’s helped build a business around that understanding. Bink allows consumers to link all their store loyalty cards in a single app, boosting the issuers’ reach with their more loyal customers, and creating a slew of data to boot.

“Data sits underneath everything we do,” he explains. “Take grocery. The supermarkets pioneered loyalty cards, and incredibly smart uses for the data they collected. But the rise of contactless payments together with self-scan checkout has made data collection much less reliable. And that’s where businesses like ours come in.”

Bink is shooting for 10m users in the UK alone, so the volume of data will be huge. “We couldn’t have managed that level of data ten years ago,” says Gormley. “Just the fact that storage costs have declined exponentially is a huge facilitator for a business like this. We needed the whole system to be scalable too, and building on cloud-based, open- source systems means we can add fresh capacity at will.”

Those same principles underpin not just data-rich businesses, but any growth company exposed to tech. Which is to say, every growth company.

The emergence of the internet of things and machine learning mean that many of the “dumb” tasks we undertake today will be automated soon. That’s going to create a whole new dimension for scaling a business. Which means the FD has to be at the core of decisions on data now.

“FDs and CMOs want to understand their businesses in real time, but without being blinded by the data,” says Gormley. “You need to be clear about how your business is working, about how you’re making progress towards your strategic goals. That means being clear on KPIs; understanding what drives them; and being able to interrogate the right data in the right way to support better decisions.”

For many companies, that could be a painful process. Picking the right applications and evaluating the potential to shift businesses models is now a critical risk management task.

“Of course data science is moving so fast, there will be blind alleys, not every technological advance is going to find a strong application or a clear return,” Gormley concludes. “But for companies with a growth mindset and the agility to respond to developments in data science, there are going to be some massive opportunities.”

By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.


This article was previously published on Smith & Williamson prior to the launch of Evelyn Partners.