Why Digital Agencies should think Data First

Digital agencies adapt to their customer’s needs, that’s in their DNA, but will that be enough to follow instead of anticipating?

By Olivier Dobberkau

Having more than 25 years of experience in the digital industry, I can look back at many turning points in my career. Examples are building websites with Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, writing lousy PHP code to create news managing modules, or making the move to a content management system.

All those have in common that the initial task was rationalized to become a commodity. The incredible development of the internet in general and the democratization of the personal digital assistant depicted by the mobile phone have created a market big enough for millions of web developers and digital agencies. Many digital waves have washed ashore and their surfing crowd experiences the constant desire of organizations to evolve in the digital journeys they want to create for potential clients. This looks like a paradise for agencies and sounds too good to be true.

In the midst of such a picturesque digital world, agencies innovate as little as needed. However, on the very distant horizon, a storm is brewing up. Business offerings, such as a website or the development of digital applications, are becoming a commodity. Organizations are just a glimpse away from operationalizing such activities if digital agencies cannot offer additional value.

The pandemic has changed how agencies do business

The yearly German Digital Agency Survey found out that the typical growth of 20% per year, which has previously made the agency industry hum, is beginning to cease, putting traditional offerings at risk. Consulting and digitalization projects remain to be the only areas of growth. The pandemic environment has opened the eyes of many decision-makers. As a consequence, long-running projects have been stopped. Most organizations rushed to a working-from-home setup and discovered that many projects can be delivered without complicated setups but self-service, managed offerings. This experience of almost instant results is changing the perception of the digital agencies’ work.

Adapting to the new world

Now what? Leaders in digital agencies can wish for the old days to come back or adapt to the changes and build a new strategy rooted in data. That’s easy to say, but how difficult is it to operationalize?

Think Data First to the rescue. In our world, data is the key factor for growth. Some might even say: Data is the new oil. Agencies should return to solving their client’s problems and providing meaningful value. Agencies can turn their client’s data into value and help them answer important questions to their own organization or expand on their business.

How to take first steps in becoming a data-driven agency

Great first steps in becoming data-driven might be the optimization and digitalization of analog processes, the automation of extracting information from documents, or the automation of syncing data between different systems.

Data projects might start with a dedicated team of data analysts, data scientists and/or engineers, and a technical product owner. Data project teams should get full management backup and commitment. In return, the team should educate the whole agency and organization on how to breathe data

The first task of the data team should be to educate the rest of the agency in understanding data. This is typically referred to as “data literacy”.

The second task is to establish a solid data platform, typically implemented with a (cloud) data warehouse. There is a vast list of possible solutions to choose from. For a first start, I would like to recommend using a managed service like Google Cloud Big Query.

In the third step, choosing a technology for generating value from data by transforming them is key. We are a little bit biased, so we recommend using our DataCater platform, which allows data teams to collaborate on data pipelines and strongly reduce the time spent on data preparation. DataCater is the key tool for accessing all the data sources that you can think of. Be it databases, Web API, or even CSV flat files in the bucket of a cloud object store.

Depending on what your use case looks like you might want to look for a tool to visualize your data. Tableau and alike offerings are worth a first look.

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Are you looking for more inspiration for becoming data-driven as a digital agency? Feel free to reach out to me!


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