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data distil dram communications

Data Distil: How to build a roadmap for an innovative data analytics service

The story behind Dram Communications

Dram Communications is an independently owned, corporate communications business based in Scotland. Established in 2008, their experienced team works with clients across the globe and pride themselves on their discretion and social values. A lot of Dram’s work involves developing evidence for clients to engage with policymakers and other influencers.

The Challenge

Data Distil has been launched by the founders of Dram Communications to help clients use their data and understand how it can support stakeholder engagement and policy making.

They had recognised the value of using data analytics and data science to derive critical insights and enable evidence-based decision making. Their proposed innovative data products will power the current (and future) services offered by Dram Communications and open up new business opportunities in the UK and beyond.

They engaged with The Data Lab in mid-2020, seeking assistance in understanding and developing the technical capabilities required to enable their Data Distil proposition. They wanted to determine the optimum approach for establishing and growing Data Distil.

We invited Corporate Comms Specialist & Managing Partner, David Ross, and The Data Lab’s Principal Solutions Architect, Rhona MacLennan, to discuss the challenges faced by Dram Communications, and the solutions provided by TORCH.

What was your motivation behind the project?

David: Pre-pandemic, we had recognised that data science and using big data was fundamental to the shift in policy thinking. We felt there was an opportunity to explore that. We’d become aware of The Data Lab through a larger client we’ve had a relationship with for several years. The timing of our introduction to TORCH was great. There often appears to be a lot of smoke and mirrors round data science so we wanted to have the comfort that we were dealing with a trusted party that would steer us in the right direction.

Rhona: David and his partners had seen the need for the services to be offered by Data Distil growing all the time. There’s a strong commercial proposition for those services based upon the needs of Dram’s existing client base. They’d seen the opportunities that would arise with new clients (potentially also new geographies) from enabling trusted data driven analysis and insights across their services, but there was no one in-house with enough data or technology expertise.

So, how did TORCH approach the challenges?

Rhona: We began with a good discovery session, where I met with the team and we talked about what it was they wanted to achieve. From there, I was able to go away, do a lot of research, and produced an initial draft report (which Dram reviewed and came back with a couple of areas where they wanted to go deeper). The final report was built across maybe 4 or 5 meetings, over a period of about 5 or 6 weeks. It gave a good overview of the whole data domain, what the possibilities and potential pitfalls were, and presented options for moving forward.

David: The sessions were all quite substantial, the first one in particular. We had quite a broad concept, and this was about helping us narrow that down into quite practical interventions going forward.

Rhona: In our very first interaction, David had some good slides showing their ideas, detailing what they wanted to do across the types of services. So, for me, it was taking that and (through the report) explaining how they could actually go about achieving those things and fill in some of those foundational steps.

And what were the recommendations of the report?

Rhona: The TORCH report captured the business outcomes sought, the core requirements, the key capabilities, and identified potential solution options across those capabilities.  A high-level roadmap has been produced which recommends the most suitable implementation approach in order to successfully achieve the establishment of the Data Distil product offerings.

We recommended that Dram undertake at least one proof of value/concept with a current client. We advised that the PoC should be based on a new or prior requirement for that client, and should demonstrate how data can be used to enhance the outcomes for them. Completing such a PoC will increase Dram’s understanding of the data and analytics ecosystem.

The Dram team identified a strong candidate PoC, working with a Data Science MSc placement student from University of Strathclyde, and utilising Microsoft Azure services as we had recommended.

Was an MSc Placement something you’d considered before the TORCH engagement?

David: We’d considered it, and we’d actually spoken directly to the course supervisor at Strathclyde University, so it circled back nicely. The engagement gave us comfort to recruit an intern, because we were able to rely on the guidance provided through the report that helped us frame their role. It gave us an idea of what they would capable of doing. I think, if we hadn’t had that, it would have been difficult to get a sense of whether we were asking too much or too little. Was it relevant to someone who’s studying to be a data scientist vs someone who’s an analyst, or who has a focus on data entry, etc.? It helped us make best use of the candidate’s time too.

What’s next for the project?

David: Due to existing relationships with technology partners, we’ve already been able to start work on the project ourselves.

The new capabilities are an attractive attribute, so it’s helped our core business, but it’s also helped the team begin to understand data more. One of the team is now participating in The Data Lab’s Leadership Training course, and that was driven through the engagement we had with Rhona and TORCH. We’ve got the confidence to keep going forward.

We’re in the process of identifying partners to do two or three demonstrator projects, so that we can begin to take these projects to clients. After that, we might be coming back to The Data Lab for some support with the next stage.

And, although there’s a real commercial opportunity here, what’s really got us excited is the community benefit focus; an opportunity to do the right thing by using data to help solve societal issues in a more sophisticated way. The more we get involved in this, the more we’ve realised that this is a key part of it.

How helpful was the TORCH process and working with Rhona?

David: We came at this from a non-technical background so it’s been very useful to work with people who have got technical capabilities, but who are still able to communicate with non-technical people.

The engagement was very personal. We weren’t ever made to feel stupid at any step of the way, even though we often felt we were asking some pretty basic questions. The timescales and process was very professional and was hugely well received by both Management and the Product team.

We’ve also used the engagement to influence others. One of our clients are taking a student intern later on this year after we helped them understand the value in this.

If you’re already thinking about ways to do more with your data, but looking for expert validation, our TORCH team can assess your plans to make sure that no stone is left unturned.

To discuss your ideas, contact one of our friendly team for an impartial discussion.