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Big data, big results


Big data, big results

The National Innovation Centre for Data's project with leading auto parts corporation LKQ, a Fortune 500 company.

A team from auto-parts corporation LKQ recently collaborated with experts from the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) at Newcastle University.

They looked to streamline and analyse data from the company’s growing global network of stockists, manufacturers and self-service retail businesses.

The LKQ team, with members from India, Italy and the UK, set up shop with NICD specialists at Newcastle Helix.

Together they explored how analysis of the data could improve the company’s operations and reveal new growth opportunities. NICD is hosted by the University because of its depth of data expertise.

By the end of the six-month project it had already generated significant savings for LKQ.

John Quinn, CEO of LKQ Europe Limited, says: “Although LKQ is a leader in its market, the collaboration with NICD allowed us to move faster and create deeper insights than we would have been able to on our own. While we are expanding our in-house capabilities, I expect we will continue our partnership with NICD.”

Engineering components in the shape of a car.

Developing skills

NICD focuses on supporting and further developing the skills of the people it works with, so while the LKQ team had access to the NICD’s people and brains, they remained in control.

“The idea was that they led the project,” says NICD Deputy Director Barry Hodgson. “It was their challenge, and we supported them as they worked through it.”

“LKQ is a business that has grown by acquisition, so you tend to get siloed data”, he explains.

The first thing the team worked on was aggregating the various data sets, so they could look across all the data to identify any patterns that would give them insight into the business, and how they could change it to improve efficiency.

But before any analysis could begin the data had to be cleaned and validated.

“When we went back to the business with a solution based on a dataset, we didn’t want someone to query whether the data set was wrong,” explains Marcin Lisowski, Head of Data Analytics, LKQ Europe Limited.

“In that sense, the role of Newcastle University in doing the statistical validation on the data was vital.”

During the programme there were regular meetings in which the LKQ team explained their thinking.

The team then applied it to groups of up to 10 company branches at a time, making recommendations based on the results, and eventually planning to roll out the UK solution to subsidiary companies across 22 European countries.

Adding value

The people and methodology of NICD are hugely valuable in a world where companies have access to more data than ever before.

“NICD is set up to collaborate with organisations, on their domain-related business problem, working with their people, using their data on their systems to resolve that problem,” says Barry.

In this way, the University engagement concept is different; NICD uses a dedicated team, collaborating with a business to upskill its individuals or teams in data science.

The aim is to enable those same individuals to go back into the organisation and continue to develop data-led insights to support the business.

We didn't want someone to query whether the data set was wrong... In that sense, the role of Newcastle University in doing the statistical validation on the data was vital.

Marcin Lisowski, Head of Data Analytics, LKQ Europe Limited

Three separate programmes are used by NICD to interact with organisations.

The first is ‘Data Insights’, an awareness-raising programme of events; the second is its ‘Connections’ programme, helping to signpost those with data needs to those who can help; and the third programme and major component is ‘Data Skills’, which it utilised so successfully in its six-month project with LKQ.

“Businesses have a lot of data. If you use data as the objective measure to answer the questions that drive your business, you’ll be in a much better position than your competitors if they are making decisions based on anecdote, myth and instinct,” concludes Barry.

“If you can back up your proposals through objective data, you’ll be in a much stronger position to persuade decision makers and those business decisions will be far better than any based on instinct.”

Marcin adds: “We have taken the business on an important journey. It’s not just about revenue. The excitement is in taking the whole management team on that journey by showing them the prototypes, and explaining what we can achieve if we’re open to it.”