Comma’s Sam Goss on the firm’s growth ambitions and data

12 May 2021 7 min. read
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Sam Goss is one of the co-founder of Comma Group, a consultancy firm exclusively focused on data and information management. Hot on the heels of the firm’s acquisition by Amplifi, spoke with Goss to discuss the firm’s growth, ambitions with its US-based owner and on the growing importance of data. 

Could you give a brief overview about the company?

We came together as a founding team of four in 2015 and our vision was quite simple: to become the UK’s leading consultancy focused on data and information management. As a team, our background was managing enterprise level master data management projects, but our aim was to bring that expertise together with the foundational services within the data management space, such as data governance and data quality.

Now, in 2021, our team of 60+ data experts can deliver the full suite of services that ensure truly successful data and digital transformation initiatives.

Sam Goss, Chief Operations Officer, Comma Group

Does Comma Group focus on particular sectors or industries?

Comma has never had a rigid industry focus. We passionately believe that all businesses, regardless of what industry or sector they operate in, will always have a need for good quality data. We have clearly had more success in some industries than others due to our strong track record in sectors such as retail, hospitality and manufacturing but, equally, we have branched out into many new industries such as healthcare, financial services and charities. 

Our belief is that good data management practices are relevant to everyone. We immerse ourselves within our client’s organisation to leverage the expert knowledge they have of their own industry, pair it with our data knowledge and deliver outstanding results. 

Who are the type of clients you work with? Do you have a case study or an example that you could share?

We work with a range of clients across a number of different industries, ranging from mid-size organisations to FTSE 100 businesses. Much of the work that we do tends to boil down to a handful of typical business drivers such as increasing revenue, improving efficiencies and digital transformation. 

To achieve this, we need to primarily do two things.  Firstly, we work with businesses to ensure their processes, organisational structure and technology solutions are set up to provide the high-quality data they need about their products and services across their supply chain.

Secondly, we work with clients to make sure they really understand who their customer is, working with them to create a single view of their customer to ensure that they have all the tools available to them to market to that individual as effectively as possible. 

One of the other key business drivers that we see is regulatory compliance. More and more we see new regulations come into place that require good data management practices. Comma has done a lot of work in the food service and hospitality sectors and the management of allergen information is hugely important. Not only is this critical information for the end consumer but it is now baked into law, through Natasha’s Law, which determines what information must be provided to ensure that consumers know what is in the products they are purchasing and whether it poses a risk to them or not.

Congratulations on the recent acquisition by the US firm, Amplifi. How will this impact on the work that Comma Group does? Or the team you have built?

The acquisition by Amplifi provides the platform for both Comma and Amplifi to start competing on a global scale, which is truly exciting. Having both been perceived as relatively boutique consultancies in the past, our combined businesses really provide the platform for us to win and deliver global projects that perhaps we would not have been considered for in the past. 

We feel we now occupy a sweet spot whereby we are no longer a boutique business, but we still provide a much more valuable service when compared against the global system integrators. Our strategy now is to continue to grow, using the solid platform of the two successful businesses to enable us to continue to grow both organically but also through further acquisition. 

In terms of the impact on the team, in the short term very little will change. We are still rapidly growing the business within Europe and it will require all the constituent parts that we have built to date. Obviously, as the dust settles post acquisition and as the two businesses become further intertwined, it will provide amazing opportunities for everyone involved as we grow. The feeling is overwhelmingly positive from all of the team. 

What was the driving force behind the merger?

The driving force of the acquisition is the fact that we are now stronger than ever and can provide our combined expertise on a global scale. That said, one of the most important reasons that we decided to embark on this journey with Amplifi, is due to the cultural fit between the two businesses.

As two leadership teams, we have been lucky enough to know each other for a number of years through either previous roles or encounters at trade shows. This is where it became apparent very quickly that we were very aligned in our ethos of how we want to deliver data projects. Perhaps, more importantly, the supportive and ambitious culture that we’ve created at Comma is shared by the leadership team at Amplifi and was a very important consideration for us as shareholders ahead of agreeing to any acquisition. 

Before completion we spent a lot of time understanding each other’s business and, in particular, the culture of how the two organisations operate. It was clear to all of us what a good fit we were for each other, which certainly would not have been the case with every suitor. We truly believe we can achieve bigger and better things as a single unit. 

Data is often a double-edged sword for many organisations – it holds the promise of immense value, but requires an intense investment of time, resources and expertise. What would you say to a business looking for ways to unlock value from their data today?

I think the first mistake that a lot of businesses make is that they know they need to do something with their data but they aren’t linking it back to their strategic priorities as a business. What often happens is that there is a perceived lack of immediate benefit from data projects, which can lead to senior stakeholders questioning the value of their investment. 

What is imperative is relating the data strategy to the business strategy, then having a clear plan of how to get from A to B. It often requires businesses to start simple; if you consider the data value chain, a lot of the high value activity comes from having deep insight into very specific performance metrics of a business that can allow tweaks to strategy to drive improved performance. 

But in order to get there, the foundational management of data needs to be in place to ensure that any insight is being gleamed from accurate and consistent data. Without doing the basics right, the high value analysis can often be compromised. It really is about understanding where you want to be, how data supports that journey, then taking stock of where you are and forming a plan to get there. 

And finally, would you agree that data really is the new oil?

Personally, I am not a fan of this comparison. In the grand scheme of things, I think we will look back and see oil as a short-term solution. Data, I believe, is here to stay for as long as we are around. So, no I wouldn’t say data is the new oil. Instead, I would say data is the new norm.