Visa: innovation, brand… and robostat 2.0

I met Stat-Droid!

Before Christmas I wrote about the automation that underlies the Reproducible Analytical Pipeline. I imagined it to take the form of a friendly robot helper: “about 3 feet tall, soppy and warm hearted, buzzing around the Government Statistical Service dispensing help and advice wherever humans need it”.

At the VISA innovation centre at Paddington in London, I met this little robot on the right:

Three feet tall? Tick.
Warm hearted and soppy? Tick
Dispensing help and advice? Absolutely- though not to produce statistics but to make the process of shopping easier.

It’s just one of the innovations on display at the Innovation Centre. Others include a car that can pay for your parking, congestion charge and dinner with one swipe; a brooch from London Fashion Week that doubles up as a swift payment reader; and a beautiful ceramic ring that you can use to touch-pay, like a contactless card.

For all the cutting edge stuff, I was struck by how generalisable the process of innovation is. Start with the problem. Don’t define a solution, describe an outcome. Think of the personas of the people you want to help. Work in a creative space that facilitates lots of interactions between different teams. Have an inexhaustible supply of Post-Its.

And what underpins all these innovations is a more profound insight about brand. Visa used to be identified with a physical product: it was the visible logo on many payment cards. But what the brand is now about is making payment easy- a service to improve the way we go through the world, not a plastic product. Thinking of it as a service has led Visa to develop a whole range of innovations, all centred on making payment easy. And all the innovations only make sense if people have confidence, that they see visa as a reliable, safe, efficient service that exists to serve their, not its own, interests.

What does this mean for statistics?

First, statistics are best thought of as a service, not a product. A statistician is not just collecting or counting data on a process – how many patients pass through the NHS, what’s the total number of new housesĀ  – but helping people understand and make judgments. Thinking like this can enable statistics to identify new ways to help people make sense of the world.

Second, confidence is fundamental. The ability of statisticians to provide the service to people depends on their ability to command confidence: that people believe the statistics are compiled by organisations that are reliable, and have the public’s interests at heart. That the brand of statistics is trustworthy.

So: focus on statistics as a service, and on the fundamental importance of trustworthiness to the brand of statistics. Do this, and statistics can be a space of innovation too.