A tale of numbers from our managing director
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Nicole Huyghe was naturally inclined to make her own way in the world of business. She wanted to avoid the administrative pitfalls of large companies while doing what she loves best: data analysis. After a decade and a half, the result of boobook – an international firm with a highly passionate team of analysts and developers, and a rich story of growth.
Once upon a statistical method…
Numbers have always fascinated Nicole. “Many people think of numbers as straightforward figures, amounts or counts, but there is always a story behind every number,” she explains. “I’m interested in learning – and telling – that story.”
After studying bioengineering and horticulture, her love for numbers led to a master’s in applied statistics. “I realised that I was fascinated by the real-life context of data, numbers and methods of analysis,” she continues. “That being said, despite my education, I’ve never worked with a real-life plant in my entire career,” she laughs.
Nicole began her analytics career at Procter & Gamble, subsequently taking on roles in smaller and smaller firms. “Large companies move very slowly and a huge amount of energy is wasted on administration and politics. It was frustrating to watch, and I was driven to put this energy to real use. So, I headed off on my own, gradually building my client base – which, at the time, mainly consisted of market research agencies.”
In a time before analytics was a ‘Big Thing’
After a few years, Nicole found herself working day and night. “I realised that it was time to scale up,” she recalls. It was a gradual evolution from home-based, one-woman operation to a company employing a team of analytics experts. “Fast growth was never a driver in the case of boobook, which was then called solutions-2. Our focus has always been on providing the highest-value tailored solutions to our clients – and to have fun doing it.”
Until about three years ago, most of the company’s work was related to market research analytics. “We were working with a narrow gamut of information, and much of our time was spent choosing analytical methods and performing the ‘grunt work’ of data analysis related to this kind of information.”
Riding the winds of change
However, the following years brought new and exciting trends to the market, as well as a broader field of competition. Nicole: “When I first started out, there was literally zero competition. As awareness of the enormous opportunities presented by data insights grows and the word ‘analytics’ is hyped, we are seeing more players enter the field. In the midst of all of this din, we have to ‘shout’ much louder about our skills and expertise to be heard.”
“So much more data has become available, from purchasing habits and preferences to customer activity on the web. The number of tools and methods is growing every day. Companies now hire us as analytics consultants and experts, choosing instead to perform the analyses themselves, or even to automate them as these capabilities emerge.”
Looking ahead to a bright future
Based on these trends, Nicole expects faster growth in the coming years as the market shifts from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’. “Previously, the trends revolved around creating awareness about the power of data,” she says. “Clients are now moving from that awareness to incorporating analytical solutions into their strategies. It hasn’t been a rapid shift, but it’s definitely significant.”
And like the vast majority of companies in a wide range of sectors, automation and increasingly easier analyses will affect boobook’s role in the analytics marketplace. The key to success? “Staying ahead of what is impacting our business,” Nicole asserts. “I expect role descriptions at boobook to change over the next five years from what they are now as we move more and more into a consulting role. Number-crunching can be automated, but interpretation and expert advice will always be needed to make sense of the results. That’s where we shine.”
The next challenge?
An increasing number of clients are expressing the desire to learn how to perform the analyses themselves, which is rapidly becoming a core function in many companies. Nicole: “It’s no longer being fully outsourced and is gradually serving a constant purpose, much like human resources. I see the boobook team becoming indispensable coaches in this transformation with significant value to add.”