Today’s ‘Day in the Life’ features Deborah Thomas, the Chief Communications Officer of analytics database platform, Exasol. We hear how Deborah has adapted to new ways of working during the pandemic, and what has changed at her company.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

At Exasol, the communications team manages multiple ‘cool’ areas including public relations (PR), analyst relations (AR), corporate social responsibility (CSR), brand awareness, thought leadership, our evangelism program, internal comms, and social media. My role consists of connecting the dots between these disciplines and creating conversations, debate, and excitement both internally and externally. 

This means finding the right platforms to show the world that we have a voice and something valuable and compelling to say. Our approach to this focuses on telling stories that connect with people on a personal, human level – turning visitors to our content into brand advocates like us, because they can see the vital importance of data in our everyday lives.

Talk us through a typical day…

After my early morning ‘cat alarm’ call, I drink a huge amount of tea and catch up on the news. But most importantly, I try to book time offline before I start the day so I can think about the day ahead and get my ideas in order. I can’t stress enough the importance of thinking time. It’s critical for focus and balance. I will review my calendar during my ‘thinking time’ so I know what I’m working on that particular that day and live by it. 

Once I’m online, I catch up on emails and Slack messages. This is usually when I have my first meeting of the day, catching up with fellow Exasolians or discussing new projects. Given the current situation and the need to remain isolated and socially distanced, virtual meetings are more important than ever for me. We need to keep the camaraderie and togetherness alive.

During the day, I’d also ideally have some time blocked for reviews and approvals, but I often fail, and my day gets overrun with meetings. But that’s okay – they are also important. Between meetings, I find a few minutes here and there to cuddle my cats, grab a bite to eat, then back to more emails and Slack. 

I’m a bit of a night owl, too. So, a lot of my creativity comes later in the evening and I’m often working later because of this. I tend to come up with ideas for conversations, or suggestions for an ongoing project while drinking some wine…

How do you maintain an effective work/life balance?

A lot of people have managed to find a perfect work/life balance. I am not going to pretend to be one of them! (I also won’t pretend I go for 5K runs at lunch.) 

I love my work life and I love my personal life. My week days are dedicated to work and sometimes that’s into the evenings too – especially if we have launches or large company initiatives in the works. What’s next for our strategies, how we can improve our storytelling, and coming up with creative ideas are all things I enjoy thinking about a lot. 

That said, I generally give myself Friday evening and Saturdays completely ‘off’ and focus on my personal life. And on Sundays, I love spending time cooking up a massive roast for the family. Sometimes, I think about work while I’m in the kitchen and that’s okay. 

I have a single calendar that has both my work and personal commitments on it. It is one big picture of everything that’s going on in my life. On Mondays, I review the whole week and then each morning for the day ahead. I find a rhythm that works for me by doing this. 

It is really important to ensure a work/life balance for mental and physical wellness, but that balance is different for each person.  

How has strategy changed at your company?

2020 was pretty intense for Exasol. We became the second organisation to complete a virtual IPO in Europe – the first in Germany. Going public in the midst of a pandemic took a lot of bravery and self-belief – we raised $96m in three and a half days and share prices have shown an upward trend since.

The success of the IPO has made us a true global player. And the challenges that organisations face in the current climate are an opportunity for us to further establish that status, because our high-performance analytics database enables our customers to make data-driven decisions based on the most up-to-date data every day – driving them forward. 

At Exasol we believe that data can change lives, on a small and large scale.

Therefore, our comms strategy this year will be shifting from product features and benefits to new conversations on the everyday use, power and benefits of a data-driven approach, to humanise data and make data-driven decision making second nature.

How has customer behaviour (or your clients’ customer behaviour) changed during the pandemic?

It depends on the initial position of the customer. Those who already had a flexible working infrastructure and that were predominantly based online have been better positioned, as the challenges of COVID-19 didn’t impact their operations as significantly. Others have had to be more defensive and reactive out of necessity. 

What’s clear though is that it’s more crucial than ever that businesses have short, medium and long-term data strategies and plans in place to help them make fast, informed decisions. Our data analytics offering – in particular the cloud options – have played a large role during the pandemic, from helping to stabilise businesses, to laying the foundations of new processes, to predicting what’s next. 

Our team compiled some in-depth research looking at the path to recovery after a crisis and revealed three phases that most of our customers have experienced.

1. Resilience – stabilising the business and protecting it from the impact of COVID-19. You need to protect supply chains and overall performance, but the safety of employees and users is most important of all. Achieving the latter without compromising the former is a fine balance. Rapidly onboarding new data and actioning the insights was, and remains, of paramount importance to getting this right.

2. Realignment – the actioning process. A phase of adjusting internal processes to better reflect the demands of COVID-19 for the longer term. You need to be able to objectively analyse multiple business situations, assess risk and mitigate disruptions to operations. There’s even more of an emphasis on real-time data here, given the changing behaviour of businesses and consumers over the course of the pandemic.

3. Recovery – accelerating growth up to, and beyond, pre-COVID expectations – is the final phase. This means investing in tools that allow organisations to focus on speed, performance, scale and future growth, usually by deploying AI-enabled solutions that focus on driving revenue and top-line growth. AI and ML have provided the ability to analyse data from a huge wealth of sources, identifying emerging trends and anticipating changes that would have been shocks otherwise.

What do you predict for the future?

2021 will see more of what we term collaborative intelligence – the combination and optimisation of collaboration between humans and AI to achieve true data-driven decision making. AI is a human story as much as a technology one.

When both people and machines are used to their full potential businesses will be able to act faster and make better decisions, which is more important than ever.

This will go beyond AI automating parts of processes in our everyday tasks and augment human experience too. This is where the real power will lie – extracting maximum value from digital data at the same time as applying human creativity and empathy. We can’t even imagine yet some of the possibilities this could bring and the data stories that will prevail.

Importantly, businesses will need to be ready for this and upskill and cross-skill employees to hone their soft skills as well as learn how to get the most from technology. I also hope we see school curriculums shifting to prepare children for a new world of work. 

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

[Join a comms team! Kidding…]

Core principles I would give as advice to anyone are: to have self-confidence, believe in your knowledge, experiences and answers, and trust your own voice. 

It’s also important to recognise that a challenge in both marketing and communications is to educate people inside your own organisation. Using your voice to help others understand and become advocates for your company’s messages is crucial. If you want people to be able to tell the stories you’re creating, you need to be able to take all of your colleagues on the same journey so that they buy into it too. That means helping them to understand what you’re driving towards and learning how to navigate people’s natural resistance to change. 

It’s also important that your stories come from a place of truth. In my opinion, the best stories, very much like an engaging novel, will either leave you intrigued, full of questions and wanting to seek out answers, or knowledgeably satisfied that the story has given you the answers and truth you sought.