In recent years, Big Data has shaken up the way we do business and even how we live our lives. But access to this amount of data can also provide businesses with better – and ongoing – insights into the expectations and needs of their consumers. Denis Machuel, Global CEO at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services & Sodexo Group Chief Digital Officer, explains how companies can capitalize on Big Data – and points out the associated challenges.
How does the arrival of Big Data change the way companies approach benefits and rewards as well as recognition strategies in general?
Denis Machuel: Up until recently, companies designed benefits and rewards based on keeping their ear to the ground or their own intuition, and very little on actual data. As a result, programs in the past often centered around turn-key solutions and, ultimately were rather hit-or-miss in terms of employee participation, engagement and overall success.
Today, the landscape is very different. Companies now have massive amounts of data at their fingertips, allowing them to identify workforce demographics, wellness issues, staff needs and general problems in the workplace. So, we’ve been able to move from a “one size fits all” model to bespoke programs that are absolutely adapted to every single individual.
What are the benefits of this level of personalization?
D.M.: With the Data, we can measure the frequency with which employees cash in on benefits and rewards – all broken down by age, location, etc. This real-time data allows companies to see whether or not their employees are truly interested in the benefits they provide and monitor the effectiveness of their program. More importantly, it also lets them adapt and revamp accordingly. With access to the right data, companies can develop more appropriate and more engaging programs, and then have a stronger and more accurate impact on employees’ Quality of life.
On the flip side, are there any challenges that accompany Big Data that didn’t previously exist?
D.M.: There is a beauty and a danger to Big Data. Whether it becomes an immensely powerful and useful tool that yields positive impacts or it becomes a liability relies entirely on how it is used. That is to say, with respect to people, privacy, anonymity of data, etc. With access to sensitive and personal data comes great responsibility. It is crucial for companies to approach Big Data thoughtfully, as it can involve serious ethical and legal issues.
In Europe, a new data protection regulation is set to roll out in 2018. At Sodexo, we are committed to being compliant, but beyond that, we will ensure that the spirit of protecting privacy is in the foreground.
What steps has Sodexo specifically taken to ensure data privacy and security?
D.M.: We are setting up cross functional workgroups and creating all the necessary work streams to ensure data privacy and compliance with regulations across the world. We have recruited data specialists to work with our finance, IT and legal departments – all of whom are implicated in the Big Data process.
With these workgroups in place, how will Sodexo continue to capitalize on Big Data?
D.M.: We recently invested in Wynd, a startup that will help us bundle our onsite services and benefits and rewards services to offer consumers a much wider offer. For example, under our new program, employees who have access to an onsite cafeteria, run by Sodexo will not only have the choice of having lunch onsite, but they can eat at nearby restaurants or have lunch delivered right to their desks. Wynd allows us to leverage data, anticipate employee needs and behaviors, and proactively create a variety of lunch solutions.
It seems like Big Data can help Sodexo strengthen its partnerships with local merchants as well – would you agree?
D.M.: Absolutely. Today, 1.3 million partners in over 3 million locations across the world accept the Sodexo card. We drive a lot of traffic to these merchants– and the more we’re able to gather qualitative data and characterize the customer population, the stronger this partnership can be. This data allows us to create tailor-made offers and customized solutions in partnership with our merchants.
What do companies need to get right in order to be successful?
D.M.: The real crux of Big Data success is not simply amassing tons of data; the real work lies in one’s ability to sift out what’s important. This is where data experts come in. If companies employ the right expertise, they can dive into the data and find trends, patterns and themes, they will be able to then build healthier work environments and identify potential health-related risks early on.
In short, simply having access to big data does not mean that you will automatically create value, you have to ask the right questions: How do we analyze data? How do we use that to properly adapt our programs to understand the behaviors wishes of our clients and consumers?
Would you provide a concrete example of how this type of “real time” data can contribute to the success of a recognition program?
D.M.: Employee health and well-being programs are a great example of Big Data being put to good use. Apps and wearable technology can help companies better understand employees’ exercise and dietary habits. As a result, they can design programs that will engage and motivate employees, which, in turn, fosters a healthier workplace with a keener focus on employee Quality of Life.
Mobility is another area being transformed by Big Data, particularly concerning commuting, but also with regards to long distance business travel. The more we understand the usage and behaviors, the more we can optimize solutions, enhance programs and provide a comprehensive array of services for our clients’ employees as well as our own. The goal is that these changes will ultimately ease employees’ everyday lives.
Any closing thoughts about Big Data in general?
D.M.: I cannot stress this point enough: Yes, Big Data is an incredible tool that allows us to do countless things, but there is a complexity to this topic. We must find a way to balance the benefits of Big Data with the need to respect individual privacy. The point is to analyze, understand and create solutions – not to “track” people’s activity. For us, this difference is absolutely critical.