Our tech start-up of the week is The Analytics Store, a boutique consultancy and training company set up by computer scientist Aoife D’Arcy to help companies and organisations discover insights hidden in the data they collect about customers and their competitors.
D’Arcy set up The Analytics Store in Dublin in 2009 after she had worked for a number of companies in the area of data analysis. With a degree in computer science and a master’s in financial and industrial maths, she says she finds the whole process of data exploration fascinating.
"I realised that I was most happy in work when I was elbow deep in data, looking for trends and relating the results back to the business."
Having weighed up the option of moving up the corporate ladder and working in the analytics area for larger corporations, D’Arcy made the decision to go out on her own in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since.
"I work with anybody who has data, but it tends mainly to be larger organisations who have the most data. We work with companies in the banking, financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing and online sectors," she explains.
The companies that D’Arcy works with from a consultancy perspective are mainly based in Ireland, but she has also done some training with companies in the UK and in the US.
"I help companies that have invested in analytics software to use those tools. I also work with their teams to help them build models using the software. Or else I use open-source technologies," she explains.
Companies will generally approach D’Arcy if they need to mine more specific information from their data.
"We work with companies who know that they need to start getting into the whole area of data analytics and big data, but they are not too sure about what to do with their data," she says.
From this standpoint, D’Arcy will work with firms to set up their analytics teams and devise an analytics strategy.
"I will work with them through the first development models, skilling up their team and getting them up to speed on the techniques that they need to use and understand. It’s almost like starting analytics divisions within companies," she explains.
As well as this, she works with organisations such as banks that might have very developed teams on the credit risk side, but need additional expertise to do a specific piece of work.
Working with companies in-house
Fundamentally, D’Arcy believes it’s really important that such data analytics consulting is done in-house.
"There are companies that will take your data, analyse it and give you back the results, but I think it’s vital that you start analysing the data internally."
She cites the example of going in to work with a company on a customer intelligence project to mine data about what offers customers are likely to respond to, as well as purchasing trends.
"In that activity I might come across some transactions that look fraudulent or some information relating to credit checks. If you are an external company you will just be focused on the job that you are given, but a lot of the time you find other useful data that you can pass on if you work on-site at a company."
Right now, D’Arcy works solo at The Analytics Store, but she also works with Dr Brian Mac Namee on the training side of the business.
As for her future plans for the company, she wants to continue offering a flexible and bespoke service to organisations to develop analytics strategies.
"I plan to keep the business small and agile to avoid the trap that some bigger consultancy firms fall into whereby to support their large infrastructure, they need to chase billing hours rather than deliver what is right for the customer."
D’Arcy is also exploring the idea of setting up a co-op style structure of consultants.
"It’s based around having a group of like-minded and like-skilled consultants who would work together. If I need three or four consultants for a larger piece of work I could call on a network of people to bid together for this work and put a project plan together. The idea is to work on a project-by-project basis. It would allow you to be more flexible and to match the exact skills sets for each project."
She says this co-op idea is still in its infancy, however, but she has pitched it to a few individuals who agree that it’s a good plan.
"It means that I can grow the business without actually having to go out and hire 10 consultants," explains D’Arcy.
Analytics training centre for Dublin
Moving to the training side, she is also negotiating an agreement with a large analytics software vendor to develop a training programme in Dublin around the whole area of data analytics and big data.
Down the line, the plan is to eventually be able to offer these courses outside Ireland, while also developing a globally recognised centre of analytics training in Ireland.
"This training centre would be really good for the Irish market, but I think there’s also a global element that we could tap into," says D’Arcy.
Finally, her advice for other self-starters is to choose a business that they are passionate about and can stay focused on.
"There will be lots of elements of running your own business that will be challenging but if you truly enjoy what you do, they won’t seem so bad. Know your strengths and work towards them; know your weaknesses and get somebody else to work on those!" affirms D’Arcy.