By Charndré Emma Kippie
Sri Lanka-born Upuli de Abrew, Director of Insight Consulting, is passionate about ensuring that her customer and consulting partnership is as seamless as possible, and that the business’s solutions and service delivery maximise value for customers. Upuli de Abrew is a graduate of Rhodes University, and holds a Master’s degree in Information Systems. As a strong female leader, Upuli de Abrew is motivated to continually learn, and enjoys being exposed to a wide range of industry and functional areas where she has the opportunity to expand her knowledge, and use her experience to more effectively advise her customers.
Upuli de Abrew recognises that Insight Consulting’s team members are its most valuable resource. There, she is passionate about mentoring them, and building their capabilities in order to improve their ability to engage and deliver in line with the Insight Consulting ethos. We spoke to her about how businesses can derive maximum value from their data and ensure a cultural DNA that is dynamic.
What actionable steps do you have for building a platform strategy that best serves businesses and their needs?
We have developed a Customer Journey framework, which helps define a strategy for how businesses can derive maximum value from their data. This journey, whilst following the same basic steps for all customers, is tailored for each business based on their unique needs and budgets. At a high level, our framework involves the following steps:
- Pre-Engagement – Initial discussions regarding the scope of the customer need.
- Evaluation – Detailed discussions with stakeholders to understand the as-is, with a specific focus on problem and opportunity areas
- Blueprinting – Propose a strategy for the way forward based on the evaluation stage
- Onboarding – Initial setups and definition of processes (e.g. project team structures, training processes, communication processes, technical setups)
- Implementation – Begin blueprint implementation. It is key to break the blueprint down into self-contained actionable chunks that enable quick time to value, rather than a big bang approach.
- Adoption – Once solutions have been implemented, ensuring adoption is key to their ability to create the value they were designed to deliver. This step in the framework involves application training, data literacy training, change management and consistent support. Senior stakeholder buy-in is an important aspect of adoption – they should therefore be engaged throughout the process in order to ensure that companies capitalise on their ROI.
- Retention – once the blueprint has been implemented, Insight does not step away from the customer. We embrace the concept of true business partnership, and ensure we stay involved to continue helping the business to derive value from their implemented solutions, delivering enhancements and performing maintenance where required. This process leads naturally into the next step of expansion.
- Expansion – Once the initial blueprint has been delivered, and users become accustomed to their business intelligence solutions, there is nearly always scope for further value that can be derived. The expansion is often driven by application users who see the potential for further insights from data. Expansion and Retention are continuous loops that support each other.
Please briefly tell us about your vision for Insight Consulting.
At Insight Consulting, our 2023 vision is as follows:
- Keep our position as the Number 1 Qlik consulting organisation in South Africa
- Become the Business Intelligence partner of choice for South Africa
- Be the South African employer of choice for Business Intelligence
- Use our high quality resources to expand our international footprint by delivering great services at great prices to the international market.
How do you hope to make a difference in your role at Insight Consulting?
My greatest professional joy comes from seeing the people in my organisation succeed. Thus, I hope to be a positive influence on their success by using my professional and personal experience to guide, motivate and inspire them.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
Having worked within the corporate environment, in the early part of my career at Business Intelligence, I gained exposure to a number of business areas, and saw how data added huge value to the decisions that the business made. This was really where I fell in love with the concept of truly actionable data, and realised that working in and with data would also allow me to learn and apply my knowledge across the value chain of actual businesses.
When I first saw Qlik (we chose it as the BI tool at the company I was with at the time), I simply could not believe how easily and quickly we could get answers to the business questions that had previously required far more time intensive and laborious processes. I’d always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, and so, together with my former colleague and good friend, Sean Taylor, we quit our corporate careers and started Insight Consulting with a vision to bring fast, easy business intelligence to our customers , using Qlik as our tool of choice. With a lot of hard work, a ton of lessons learned and a few lucky breaks, we grew our two man band in 2007 to a company employing over 50 consultants in 2021.
What excites you the most about the work that you do?
I have the opportunity to continuously learn and problem solve. There is never the feeling of doing the same old thing – every customer is different, every business unique in its strengths and challenges. I love learning about new businesses and crafting solutions and strategies to turn those businesses’ data into value. I am lucky enough to work with a team of highly passionate individuals who are leaders in their fields, and am constantly learning from my colleagues, which makes me feel like we have a collective that is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
Please could you provide 5 tips for creating a cultural DNA that is innovative and dynamic.
- Create a win win win scenario – make sure that the customer wins, the employee wins, and the company wins. Everyone should feel that they are receiving value out of each engagement.
- Take time with recruitment and hire people who are diverse, yet fit with the ethics and value system of the company. Show people you value them and their contribution.
- Ensure that there are constant opportunities to learn and grow.
- Create an atmosphere of ownership and encourage people to lead and drive their own activities, whilst still providing a framework and support system to tap into.
- Be honest – always encourage and acknowledge feedback from and at all levels
Have you read any books that have inspired you and your career?
At the moment, I am all about productivity and making the best use of my time, both professional and personal. I recently read The 12 Week Year by Brian P Moran and Michael Lennington, and have found it extremely useful in terms of breaking my goals down into smaller chunks, and making sure that I stay focused on achieving them. I found the book so inspiring that we have started to implement the guidelines throughout the Insight organisation, and achieved some amazing results in the process.
What is your ‘why’ i.e. Bottom line? And how do you stay motivated?
The simple answer is that I love what I do. I find it challenging (who doesn’t love a good challenge!), rewarding, full of growth opportunities, and I work with a simply amazing bunch of people. I love to see others grow and excel, and take pride in seeing the people in the Insight business go from strength to strength.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
I support the SPCA, Meals on Wheels and the Domino Foundation in my personal capacity on a regular basis, and, as a company we pledge and pack boxes for the Santa Shoebox project every year. Most recently, as well, we are doing a blanket drive for the Elder’s Voice KZN.
What is your vision as a woman leader going into the next 6 months of 2021?
As a consulting business we learned early on that great people make a great company. Therefore, people development is one of my key areas of focus in the next 6 months. We are aiming to enhance and re-launch our successful InQBate programme for young graduates looking to enter the field of data analytics and consulting.
What advice do you have for young people looking to enter your field of work?
Data is only useful when it is contextualised. In order to ensure that you are able to create value out of data, you have to understand the critical areas that are relevant to businesses today. Whilst learning the tech is important, the ability to apply the tech to real world scenarios is the key success factor. Stay interested, read widely, keep learning.