Guild Contributor:

Didier Mamma, Decathlon

Didier Mamma, Decathlon

Vice President Advanced Analytics, AI Innovation Sustainability – Circularity

Agreement is not always the thing that gets us there. We need positive friction. Without friction there is no transformation.


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Laura Bineviciute, Head of Community Data Leaders

Didier Mamma, Vice President Advanced Analytics, AI Innovation Sustainability – Circularity, Decathlon

Laura Bineviciute: So today I’m joined by Didier Mamma, who is a longstanding member of our Data Leaders Advisory Board, and he is the Vice President of Advanced Analytics, AI, Innovation, and Business Transformation of business domains on Circularity, Sustainability, and In-Store at Decathlon. A very long job title. Welcome to the interview, Didier.

Didier Mamma: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Laura Bineviciute: Before we jump into what is really, I think, at the heart of your passion and also at the heart of your in-depth knowledge and understanding, we would like to look a little bit into your role and what data and analytics look like at Decathlon. So tell us a little bit more about what your role is. And how is the business set up?

Didier Mamma: Very happy to do so and to share my experience. It’s always interesting to be, I would say, under the spotlight of my peers and to also be challenged. So now, at Decathlon, we are moving to the next phase of our transformation. And to do so, we wanted to make sure that data is going to be at the core of the transformation of the business transformation, so, we have been reorganised a little bit from a transversal organisation and platform to business domains. And not only for data – we have done this also for digital and for technology. What does it mean? It means that today we have eight business domains at Decathlon and I’m running three of them: Sustainability, Circularity and In-Store.

We have a setup called “Four In The Box,” which is a composition of four leaders: one from the business, one from technology, a third one from digital and the last one myself, from data. And the purpose of this configuration is these four people will have to build together the new process – the transformation roadmap of the domain – making sure that Decathlon is going to leverage all of these aspects of the transformation: the business explains what they need, the technology puts in place the infrastructure to do so and digital pay attention to the experience.

But one thing is very critical at that moment, and this is something that Decathlon realised which is to make all these things happen, you need data to power it. The real engine of all of this is the data. That’s the reason why we have been reorganised like this – to make sure that data will have the maximum impact on the transformation and the maximum adoption of AI within the domain.

Laura Bineviciute: This is fascinating. And I obviously want to now ask, and I think many people listening to this will want to ask, how is that working? But, of course, this is a very recent change. So we’ll need to check in with you six months later to see if data is powering it, right?

Didier Mamma: No, I think it was like this but before we had a more solid line on the data and dotted line to domain. Now we’ve reversed that a little bit. Now we have the solid line to the domain and the dotted line remains for platformisation. So we have that experience for a year now and that’s something I could share with the audience. I have to say that, as you can imagine, there is friction. And we have to have a friction. For me, without friction it means that there is no transformation. So transformation equals friction. We have to make sure that we have a positive friction. And that’s super, super important.

But also it changes the mindset of the data guys, it changes the mindset of our positioning. We need to make sure that we are more business oriented, leveraging our knowledge around data and data technologies. But at the end of the day, we need to keep in mind that data remains a means, not the end. It’s not the objective. The objective is really transforming the business.

Laura Bineviciute: So, it sounds to me almost that the setup helps the business remember that data is the fuel but also keeps data people in check saying your goal is business transformation, not data projects for data project’s sake.

Didier Mamma: Yes, absolutely. I think we try to have more and more, I would say, intrication (intertwining) between all of these. Why am I talking about the intrication? Because at the end of the day you cannot imagine new business circularity, sustainability, new business model on rental or second life without technology. No way. It’s impossible.

On the other hand, just thinking technology without how you could provide, I would say, benefits, how you could provide value to business makes no sense either. So, that’s why we need to intertwine both angles, in order to deliver a real transformation not only for Decathlon, but for the customer.
And also on my side, to protect the planet, because that’s a very important objective. CO2 reduction and so on. So we need to use those technologies in order to say, for example, to the product manager or to logistics, “No, this kind of network is too CO2 consuming,” or “that kind of material is not good for the planet, because the simulation says you should use that product more instead of that one.”

Laura Bineviciute: If I am to change the focus slightly from Decathlon to the role of the CDO more broadly, what do you think are the biggest opportunities for the CDO’s across the world in the coming twelve months? What are their biggest opportunities?

Didier Mamma: I would love to suggest you go to my LinkedIn profile because I made a long article about what I call the CDO 4.0. I have a very strong conviction that a CDO 4.0 is really business oriented. It is a person that is paying attention to the business performance of the company. And what do I mean by business performance?

I am not thinking only around the gross margin or the revenue, but also about people and about the planet. It is someone that has to have a good balance. How we can improve performance of the economy side, the people side and also on the planet side. That’s the first thing.

In my opinion, it has to be linked with the CEO at the same level then the CTO or the chief digital officer. I would not suggest to put the chief data officer under the chief digital officer or under the tech guys because otherwise you’re going to achieve what happened 20 years ago when digital was under the IT organisation and did not work.

This is what we are living at the moment. Today. If you look at what’s going on in the technology side, there is no revolution really in it. There is no big revolution in digital. All revolution is coming from data in terms of technology, in terms of new skills, in terms of new roles. Data is really, I would say, the core of everything at the moment. So as a CEO, they should put really a very strong focus on putting a pillar at the same level than the digital and then the technology.

Laura Bineviciute: It fits beautifully with our theme of CDO’s orchestrating the future and enabling businesses by connecting them. So I could not agree more and I look forward to how we capture all of this because I think many CDO’s will definitely agree with you.

Didier Mamma: And agreement is not always the thing that gets us there, right? Some CDO’s really need a path and ways to convince the business towards that direction. If I may add something too, I would say to firm up a little bit what I’m saying today as Decathlon, our CEO is a former chief digital officer. Before he was a chief digital officer at Ikea, so he moved to CEO at Decathlon. So there is no reason why, no reason why tomorrow – and I expect that to happen very soon – a chief data officer with a good mindset, not the techie guys, but more business oriented will have the same opportunity to move from chief data officer to CEO as well.

Laura Bineviciute: Interesting. So let’s have a look at one of the themes of this year’s Guild CDO Think Tank. Last year we started speaking about AI tsunami that felt like it was really hitting the businesses and the world overall with popularisation of LLMs.
And this year we’re trying to say let’s help CDOs or let’s get CDOs to help their organisations to move from AI tsunami to augmented organisation. And one of the questions I have to you is how does Decathlon leverage AI in order to benefit the business?

Didier Mamma: One aspect that I did not mention – and that’s also an important lever for achieving what you were describing – is the fact that the data today is not organised. I would say making sure that the quality of the data is good, or making sure that everybody has access to the data or delivering good insight or not.

What we do today, we create products. Now we are a product organisation which creates friction sometimes with digital because they consider themselves leaders of product. But as I explained many times, making products, everyone makes products: sports, digital, IT and so on. Making products is a way of doing things, a way of productising things. But it’s not a domain resource.

So that said, we create more and more data products and we have different types of data products. And why do we do that? To have a better time to market, to make sure that we have a better adoption from the people, from the business guys, from customer too.

And last but not least, a better reusability because when you create products, you want to make sure that the product you’re going to create will have a cross usage and you end up with a product used by multiple domains. In doing that, when you create a data product, you are forced to make sure that you do a good scoping with the business which creates a good experience in terms of working with business people. And that’s the way we have been able to have a better adoption of AI at Decathlon.

When I explain it like this, it looks easy. It’s not, you know, it takes time and discussion and tough discussions sometimes. But it works. One thing is very important which is to prove the value at the end and this is also a super powerful argument – when you deliver a data product and you measure the usage and value created.

It has happened that some people from the business were not happy with the value created by the product, but at the same time, I explained to them, that the reason is not because the produce does not deliver the value but because they are no using it – when it’s used, it’s going to deliver the value. So you have to measure both sides of the coin: usage and the value creation for everything. That is very interesting how you position data products.

Laura Bineviciute: And I think this is one of the presentations that you’ve done in the past as well, explaining all of that in more detail, which for Data Leaders members is accessible on the Data Leaders hub as well. So, this is a shameless plug, but indeed you have taken time to explain that process and I know that the feedback around that has been quite interesting. So, this is very valuable.
If we look at what are the biggest barriers for AI adoption, I guess that the answer to the previous question could be applied, the lack of ability to measure and showcase the value. Is that accurate?

Didier Mamma: Yes, I would say it’s one aspect to break through resistance, but it would not be enough. There is another thing that we have to take into account and it is also related to a discussion I had recently with other CDOs inside Decathlon. At the end of the day, I think that instead of talking about reskilling, upskilling people in the business on data which we have to do, I would say, work on the acculturation of business people, IT and digital guys who do not really understand really data, there is something I call “reshaping.”

What does it mean for me? I mean that we have to put in place the context where we force the business people to rethink the way they run their business. And what I mean by “force them”? We have to accompany them for sure, along the journey, but they have to revisit the way they work. It’s not upskilling. It’s not reskilling. It’s really, if I would start from a white page, how I would do my business differently? How I would remove all the things I don’t like? All the boring task and all these kind of things where AI could help me?

Or if I had kind of “smart guys” behind me telling me, okay, do this, do that, how we he appear? This is the kind of exercise that business people will have to do, accompanied by us in order to make sure that, in the end, you won’t face resistance from the business because it came from them, not from the data guys.

Laura Bineviciute: And I guess your “Four in A Box” concept that you were sharing at the beginning maps very well to this and comes full circle. This is exactly why we have you join the Data Leaders Guild, because of the conversations that you ignite. And I feel like we could keep talking and talking and talking. And I know that having those two days at Guild is certainly going to be interesting with 40 opinionated CDO’s. So I look forward to that. What brings you to Guild? Why is it important for yourself and for other CDO’s to get together in a think tank like environment?

Didier Mamma: For the reason that you explained. Because I can also meet other peers, very seasoned people with strong opinions, different to my opinion. So I can have, I would say, in a positive manner, a confrontation. I can also test my ideas, my opinions and I can also sometimes see, “oh, yes, I didn’t think of that,” so maybe I need to integrate that and to rethink or to adjust a little bit. And, also it is very important for me because if I explain something that is not well understood by my peers, maybe I have to rework my stuff. So, for me, it’s very important because I have strong convictions, but I know that I don’t have the full truth. So, it is very important for me to be challenged as well, and for me, Guild is a really good space with a good level of people, with openness, and the freedom of speak because we have nothing to lose, just everything to win by exchanging and sharing opinions.
So that’s a very, very good environment to do.

Laura Bineviciute: So. Beautifully put, Didier. Very last question. We are borrowing this idea from a podcast. We asked the previous person we interviewed, Abbi Agana, who you’ve also met in the past and another member of the advisory board, to ask a question. So, she didn’t know that you will be the person answering the question, but her question is: What role does data play in changing people’s behaviour?

Didier Mamma: Wow, that’s a very, very, very good question. And I think for me the answer is there are two aspects that are difficult for people to apply but it is critical to help them to do so. The first one is to unlearn what they know. That’s critical because without doing this, it’s very difficult to learn new things.
And the other thing is really to explore the unknown. Unknown for me, because very often because people are afraid of something they don’t know. And we need to put it in a safe context where people don’t feel at risk of making a mistake or going in the wrong direction. So in order to really push them to explore new stuff, new ideas and so on.

And that’s how the role of data is helping you. You know, data does not create anything. When you create a software, you start from scratch. What we do with data, we transform, we reveal – that’s what we do. So, we need to put in place processes in order to have all of these things all over the place.

Laura Bineviciute: Fantastic. Thank you for sharing this, Didier, and I say huge thank you for having a chat with us. And next time I’ll see you in person. We’ll be at the data leaders Guild in June in Lisbon. So thank you so much. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of months.

Didier Mamma: Thank you. Bye.

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