Data may not be on the balance sheet yet, but there’s nothing stopping organisations treating it like it is. That’s the view of Genevieve Elliott, general manager, data science and insights, Vicinity Centres, an Australian retail property organisation leveraging data and analytics. 

“I’d love one day for it to be on a balance sheet. But it doesn’t stop you treating like that anyway,” Elliot said.

The property firm’s data and analytics chief spoke to Which-50 about the rise of data and analytics in a changing commercial real estate sector ahead of her presentation at Advancing Analytics 2018 in Melbourne.

She argues data and analytics should be valued in much the same way as Vicinity Centre’s $26.1 billion worth of physical assets are, noting a longstanding contradiction, generally, around the valuation of data. During mergers and acquisitions it’s often recorded as an asset in some way, but internally generated data will scarcely be found on balance sheets.

“When you acquire a company you can acknowledge [data],” Elliot said, referencing Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016 – a deal many thought was as much about LinkedIn’s data as its social platform.

But when data is internally generated, Elliott says, it is “not deemed to be an asset for your balance sheet”.

Genevieve Elliott, general manager data science and insights, Vicinity Centres.

According to Elliott, this contradiction exists despite the value of data having been well understood for decades.

There are, however, signs attitudes towards the value of data are changing and Gartner is tipping the practice of valuing information to rise considerably in the coming years.

Vicinity Centres isn’t waiting. Elliott says her organisation already values its data in the same way as it’s physical assets.

“As a property company we have huge exposure to assets. I do think data has a value just like [physical assets] do,” Elliot said.

“Certainly from a philosophy or ethos perspective that’s the way we treat our data internally. So we describe it as an asset. We describe the actions that will improve the value of the asset and the actions that will diminish the value of the asset.”

It’s little wonder Elliott values her data so much in an increasingly competitive retail sector that traditionally “has not been heavily focused on data and analytics”.

According to Elliot data and analytics are giving Vicinity a competitive edge through a better understanding of consumers and helped Vicinity Centres solve problems around its B2B and B2C products as well as help it find efficiencies in its own operations.

Importantly, the operations data initiative gave Elliot some quick wins in energy and security, allowing her to build momentum and buy-in for the larger B2B and B2C data programs.

“The most impactful has been the work that we’ve been doing in the building space because it’s short-term and it’s where we had the best data to begin with. You’re always going to get results immediately if you know what baseline you’re working off.”

Going from anonymity to personalisation

However, a lack of existing data meant that baseline did not exist for consumer data and required a process Elliott describes as going from “anonymity to personalisation”.

According to Elliot, Data has helped shed light on the thousands of consumers shopping in Vicinity’s 80 plus Australian shopping centres and built baselines for consumer traffic and satisfaction.

“No one swipes in when they go to a shopping centre, or registers or logs in. So essentially we are trying to solve the question who is our audience? But starting from an anonymous base,” Elliot explained.

Once that data was captured – largely through wifi tracking and various ways of collecting shopper feedback – Vicinity was able to monitor consumer attitudes and their effect on the bottom line.

“We had a theory that higher satisfaction drives higher gross sales [through] higher productivity. Turns out it does. So we now have a baseline for that”

Understanding their audience allowed Vicinity to craft better experiences for shoppers while also enabling it to align audience attributes with its retail customers, thereby driving value in its B2B space, Elliot said.

Retail customers can partner with Vicinity Centres to leverage the data and analytics to help them meet customer expectations – an increasing challenge as well resourced international retailers muscle in with advanced data and analytics programs, according to Elliot.

“Retailers know that they need to embrace data and analytics. But often don’t have the resources, either the people or the margins, to do some of that… Many of them are struggling with how they do it and typically end up buying third-party data to help solve some of these problems but don’t optimise what they’ve actually got in-house.”

Vicinity Centres, however, can offer retailers first-party data of their consumers as well as insights on the entire physical retail space, according to Elliot.

Elliot and several other leading data and analytics professionals will be speaking IAPA 2018 Advancing Analytics National Conference in Melbourne on the 18th of October.

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