In today’s digital world, a retailer’s ability to harness data effectively is critical to its success. But the volume of data being produced and processed is growing at an exponential rate. Many businesses are recruiting Chief Data Officers and hordes of data scientists. Meanwhile, there are major projects underway to replace, upgrade or even prop up legacy systems. But, despite these progressive moves, it’s still easy to fall behind the curve to more data-savvy competitors. And as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, it will be increasingly important to harness the power of data to chase the opportunities of unified commerce.

Consumers continue to grow more comfortable with shopping across new channels. Of course, it’s no longer just about stores and websites, but also now social media, live streaming, virtual consultations and many more channels. Very soon, customers will expect and demand that you have an effective cross channel shopping environment as standard. But serving a customer effectively in an omnichannel manner requires not just operational capability, but also giving access to the right data at the right time with integrity and trust.

Creating a single view of data is a key enabler to be able to do all of this.

What is a single view of data?

Firstly, let’s get one thing clear – you may have already come across the term “single view of the customer”.

But customer data is only part of the scope. Many other data sources make a retailer tick. So, let’s agree to think bigger than just customer data. Think product data, inventory and stock data, order data and financial or sales data.

“Think bigger than just customer data”

But whatever data you’re looking at, you likely have multiple sources of this data, in various locations and with varied contents and fields. Almost inevitably, these won’t agree which will cause discrepancies, confusion, duplication and perhaps plenty of data cleaning.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself asking why 1+1 never equals 2?

Fortunately, there is a solution.

Building a single view of the data means that you have a single version of the truth.

With one master data source, you create an origin for this truth. All data is accessed from this origin. And all data sources are set up to adjust the origin before the data can become “true.”

In turn, the entire business can trust that they are accessing the right data, at the right time, in the right format and with the right accuracy.

Finally, you’re able to make 1+1 equal 2.

How would a single view of data benefit you?

Once you have developed a single view of data, it will quickly be used across the business – for all data queries and reports as a starter. Whilst this significantly eases the stress felt within the company, it really is only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The real opportunity for growth comes from building and implementing your cross-channel customer journeys. Customers expect to be able to switch channels simply and easily when and where they want. And customers also want you to recognise them on any channel. After all, it’s the same logo above the store entrance, or in the website header, on the social profile page or on the wall at the customer service centre. Customers just don’t care about the challenges and nuances of your inner workings and the reasons why that may be hard or impossible to deliver that.

“Customers just don’t care about the challenges and nuances of your inner workings”

But creating a single view allows you to negate those challenges. And finally, you’ll be able to present your brand to your customers as one brand whenever and however they switch channels.

Now is the time for a single view of data

For years, we’ve heard the hype of the heralded “single view.” So, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little sceptical. But several considerations point to this moment is the right time to make your move.

Consumers are now fully trained on cross channel shopping.

Coronavirus has forced consumers to switch channels, whether they wanted to or not. McKinsey have found that 75% of US consumers switched their shopping habits during the pandemic. This behaviour was due to a variety of factors, including economic pressure, store closings and even lifestyle changes. The same report also forecasts a switch to online, after Covid-19 subsides, of approximately 10%. And whilst there is variance across different categories, all share the same direction of travel.

This means that consumers will continue to use more channels for shopping, particularly digital channels.

Data is growing at an exponential rate

I’m sure you instinctively know that there is more data around today. But when you see the rate of change expected, imagine the future impact that will have on you and your wider organisation.

[Data chart title: Volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide from 2010 to 2024. Source, Statista]

Data is now used across your entire organisation. And chances are, it’s growing quicker than it can be managed and organised. But that leads to duplication, hidden data, wastage, mismatches – plus the time and cost of the different internal data conversations going on right now.

But defining a strategy and approach to create a single view of data allows you to simplify this. Yes, of course, the data will continue to grow. But, this time, you’ll be ready and organised. And more importantly, you’ll be prepared to use it to build insight and take action.

Your competitors are building a data-driven strategy

Data is a big focus for many companies now. In 2017, Gartner estimated than 25% of organisations had a Chief Data Officer. By 2019, that number was estimated to have swelled to 90%. So, as these people and companies start to build and execute their data-driven strategy, they’ll be able to optimise and seize growth opportunities.

However, the swell in this data profession is so sizable that perhaps using data effectively is no longer be a competitive edge. In fact, it’s quickly becoming a table stake. Essentially the new rule becomes “use data or go home.”

“Use data or go home”

And without a single view of data, that’s going to be a whole lot harder.

The pandemic quick fixes showed the challenges of unconnected data

Many retailers pulled off a heroic effort to quickly pivot and implement solutions during the pandemic. Kerbside pick up was perhaps the most significant retail growth area in 2020 as new propositions were developed and launched in days.

But with those quick implementations, many of the intricate integrations were deprioritised in exchange for speed. However, these lacking integrations have shown themselves as challenges with availability, customers miscommunications, or confused colleagues doing rework or generally clunky customer journeys and experiences.

“Intricate integrations were deprioritised in exchange for speed”

Fortunately, customers were mostly forgiving to retailers during the pandemic, appreciating the efforts and risks involved. But as time continues, that leniency will likely fall away and be replaced by those high expectations that were present beforehand.

But as this happens, without a single view connecting your data, will your processes and systems be up for the challenge?

How the single view of data fits within your unified experience strategy

In a recent webinar, Sunil Bajaj, VP and Practice Head of Retail Solutions at Aspire Systems, presented a framework to guide you on the journey to building unified experiences. The framework included 5 parts:

  1. Enabling continuous improvement with unified teams, consistency across channels, and by creating a customer-centric culture.
  2. Single view of data, blending structured and unstructured data over your many different types of data.
  3. Access anytime, anywhere by allowing the right people to access the right information at the right time – whilst also enriching the data and making it more valuable.
  4. Deliver experiences, recognising that this is not a technology only initiative but needs to be led by the operational users to solve real problems. The endpoint is about delivering experiences for customers.
  5. Continual learning, in a classic agile sense but also as the outputs from across a unified experience often feed into other aspects or impact other outputs.

A key takeaway was that being able to present and use data effectively becomes critical to build unified experiences.

Watch this webinar, on-demand

[Title: Unified Experiences Framework, Aspire Systems]

Furthermore, you may have heard data being described as plumbing before. But just like plumbing in a building, you must consider how to simplify pipework and ensure all access points are fed from the same data source. After all, a tap with no or limited water is useless. So, the single view of data is an essential enabler for all of your initiatives on the journey to becoming omnichannel and for creating unified experiences.

How to define and build the single view of data

If you’re keen to pursue building a single view of data, there are a series of steps to consider. For each of these, collaboration across the organisation is essential. There are many “customers” and “suppliers” of data along the internal data processing chain. Identifying these stakeholders will be a task that will continue throughout and must always stay top of mind through each step.

Step 1: Understand your data

Firstly, you’ll need to understand your data. You have many different data types and in many formats stored in many systems. Segmenting is vital here, which will help avoid overwhelm. It allows you to visualise the scale of the challenge and then make an intentional decision about where to start.

Step 2: Prioritise and divide the work

Building a single view of data is not an instant change that you’ll make. You’ll want to take an agile approach to this and developing MVPs (minimum viable product) or POCs (proof of concept) will be critical to build momentum and trust whilst also keeping workload manageable.

Remember to set expectations around the approach with the stakeholders. Effective change management will be essential to retain control and prevent unhelpful noise within the organisation.

Step 3: Map out who currently accesses data

Assuming that you don’t have the luxury to stop operations and reconfigure everything all at once, it’s important to understand who is currently accessing data. This step will help you clarify how to keep your current operating model in action.

This step may also alert you to irrelevant or less important data sources. In turn, this may adjust how you prioritise or focus on building the single view of data.

Step 4: Imagine the future set up

With an understanding of how you currently use data, you must now define the future use cases. Planning how you’ll use a single view of data will be essential to help prioritise work. What are those use cases? And how do they drive value for your customers and the organisation?

Think about the different groups and access points. Who are those future “customers” and “suppliers” of the data within the business? And how does the future internal data processing chain work?

Step 5: Define and deliver an enabling architecture

Your single view of data must work alongside your legacy systems. It’s unlikely that you’re taking on a complete system overhaul to help you integrate systems and data. Therefore, you must consider how you can create data integration layers around your existing architecture and legacy systems. These layers must connect to the current systems and databases whilst also being flexible enough to adjust to future systems and configurations.

After all, you don’t want to be taking a shortcut today that adds rigid complexity, preventing future changes and upgrades.

Step 6: Be ready for the future

Take another look at the exponential data growth chart earlier on in the article. Consider what this data growth could mean for your business? We’re in an ever-changing world and data will only become more critical to the company.

But remember, the primary goal of building the single view of data is to serve the business and customers. So, consider how the future strategy will impact a single view of data. What are the opportunities? What are the threats? And where could your data management strategy interlink and align with the broader strategies and plans?

“The primary goal of building the single view of data is to serve the business and customers”

Learn more and start your journey to a single view of data


Join the webinar on 23rd February to further explore how you can use a single view of data and how to go about building it.

Join Abhishek Mahajan, Mike Kiersey, and Oliver Banks as they explore how to empower your CX journey through building a single view of data.

 Register for your free seat to watch live and ask your questions. A replay will be available to those who register.

You must develop a single view of data to unify experiences

As data becomes more integral to your operating model, you must simplify and streamline how your data is used. Building a single view of data allows you to do this – and with a wider scope than just customer data. It removes the challenges and concerns about data accuracy and integrity in the present day. And importantly, it opens new opportunities to transform and grow the business in the future. Right now, many considerations suggest now is the time to build your single view of data.

So, take action. Join the Webinar and start the conversation about building a single view of data in your organisation


By Oliver Banks, retail transformation expert and operating model specialist. He’s also the host of the Retail Transformation Show podcast.

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