Maggie, a Project Manager at Clarkston Consulting, shares her career experience and building a new practice at Clarkston.
Maggie’s Career Experience
I joined Clarkston in 2012 after graduating college with a physics degree. After a few internships and work in various physics and astronomy labs, I realized I didn’t want to pursue a career in research or teaching through a PhD program at that time. Those were the two most typical paths for my department, so I began to look for other applications of problem solving to issues where I could see a more immediate benefit. I found Clarkston through a family friend who told me their career involved travel, working with clients in different industries, and working with a handful of different software. Through a referral, I joined Clarkston’s Bootcamp program for recent college grads, which proved an excellent onboarding. I joined with 7 other people who became a tight-knit peer resource group and got an introduction to all of Clarkston’s services and clients through a summer program. By the time I started with my first client, I felt prepared to tackle my first technology implementation as a developer by focusing on understanding the problem at hand and relying on my growing network.
Introduction to Data and Analytics Consulting and Building a New Practice at Clarkston
Data Analytics Interest
After 3 years as a software developer on projects, I was halfway through a 3-year engagement as part of a large team. There was an opening on my project for me to change roles and join the data conversion team. I thought this would be a great opportunity to expand my skillset and work with other parts of the business. I’m grateful for my team’s support in doing this, as I found I really enjoyed data conversion work, which involved a lot more teamwork and set me up to manage several client meetings at the start of each week – my client coined these ‘Maggie Mondays’. I learned SQL and various ETL tools and techniques through this role and got to work with several functions: manufacturing, quality, procurement, finance, and master data management.
While working on a project with a different client, an opportunity came up to participate in a hackathon to use a data science platform called RapidMiner to process a free text field for our client to match their retailer data sets up with their own master data in order to do analytics on them. I learned a lot about machine learning and the power of data to bring information together and answer questions for our clients that were previously unreachable. Data and analytics felt like such a powerful resource for our clients and a flexible skillset that I could foster and use in any of our industries and services.
Transforming an Interest to a Business Service
Clarkston is big on internal networks of people interested in various topics, so I’ve always participated in various teams like the food and beverage community, the innovation team, and the group focused on corporate social responsibility. After our hackathon, a few of us realized that the tool we used and solution we were able to build really quickly were a powerful option for our clients. We put in research and began to discuss opportunities with vendor partners and clients. We created our analytics team, which grew as our demand grew from clients. A lot of the firm expressed interest in getting involved – AI and predictive analytics are an exciting space to be in, and our firm leadership speak regularly about growing our skills to lead in the marketplace, calling out AI as a critical capability for us to be competitive. We accepted that charge and began getting our analysts certified in various data science programs and researching the landscape.
Building a New Practice Process: From Idea, to Nurture, and Firm Adoption
A lot of effort went into the strategic direction of our group over the first several months, defining which services we would offer and – importantly – which we would not. We worked closely with our marketing team to refine and share our services on our website and began an analytics campaign of content. We put on a number of educational sessions for the rest of the firm to understand our new capabilities and services. We had to wear a lot of hats, which I love doing; we had to make plans for training and professional development, recruiting and hiring, marketing content and events, sales enablement and demos, vendor partnerships, which tools we would work with, and building our own technical labs. At the end of the day, the best way to nurture our services was to deliver them at clients. We invested time and resources to our initial client projects, which allowed us to build out templates and formalize our methodology.
Work Changes with the Launched Data and Analytics Consulting Practice
Since the start of the practice, we have encountered a huge spectrum of challenges from our clients. Due in part to the flexible nature of analytics to solve many types of problems, we’ve broadened our capabilities greatly. Originally, we believed we’d mostly build simple predictive models, but we’ve found that our client’s challenges often require creative solutions.
We’re integrating with other technologies like graph databases to better visualize network systems like people or supply chains. We’ve hired a number of PhDs to do specialized work, like network analysis and natural language processing. We’re partnering with our firm’s industry experts to build new and better solutions to challenges our clients face. A collaboration we’re excited about is with our Diversity and Inclusion group to build an analytics tool to gauge and improve work perceptions and relationships for different demographic groups at our clients. We do a lot of augmented analytics by embedding advanced analytics into modern BI tools like Tableau and Power BI to engage more users across our client’s organizations. Our activation program is popular to increase engagement as well by guiding an end-to-end proof of value project to establish project milestones, upskill analyst talent, and identify any gaps in data, people, process, or technology. We’re adapting to what we see clients needing, starting from digital transformation strategies through offloading technical processing for our clients through managed services.
Building a New Business Practice Advice
It’s built into our culture at Clarkston that you can take on anything that you’re passionate about and people from all levels, from Bootcampers to executive leadership, will help you reach your goals. If you’re passionate about something, speak up and let it be known. Start an internal group to discuss it – how a new practice fits in the market and what skills are needed to get there. Let your curiosity be infectious and build your own skills to educate the rest of the firm and our clients. Form a perspective and don’t be afraid to share it.