Data collection used to be the kind of thing you’d only hear specialists discuss in a technical meeting. These days, it’s so mainstream — even your parents know a little about it. 

The question facing businesses is what to do with all of that information once it is collected.  

That’s where Solstice comes in. 

One of five specialties under digital consultancy Kin + Carta (formerly St. Ives Group), Solstice has been helping Fortune 500 clients develop digital products and strategies since 2001. 

“It’s fun things that you see and use, and then it’s some things that you don’t see, but they power the things that we’re all using,” says Kelly Manthey, who was at the company for over 10 years before becoming its CEO in January 2018.

Kelly Manthey, CEO, Solstice (Sam Fiske/Technori)

After being acquired by Kin + Carta for $36 million in 2015, Solstice went through a growth spurt: last summer their team took over the entire seventh floor of the Gogo building on North Canal Street. 

According to Kelly, you’ve probably used at least one tool they’ve created. For example, Solstice has worked with banks to develop the applications that let you take a picture of a check for a deposit. 

Building apps is just one part of what the company does. They also work closely with clients on long-term digital strategies. “We’re not building things and then leaving,” Kelly says. “We don’t like to date around, we like to get married. We like to partner with our clients.” 

Kelly stopped by the WGN studios and offered insights about leveraging data for better business outcomes. 

Hit that research sweet spot

“Doing a ton of research kind of flies in the face of what makes startups successful,” Kelly says, adding, “What we don’t advise is spending a ton of time gold-plating something and doing a big launch without having any of that interaction baked in with a real customer.”

You need to get your would-be audience’s feedback on your concept without letting it slow the production process to a halt. “There’s a just-enough sweet spot,” Kelly says. At Solstice, “We get right in front of the customer. We shadow them, we ask them questions, we put prototypes in front of them. We try to really understand and gain empathy for what it’s like to be you.” 

That’s round one. “And then we can use that information to inform, okay, this is what the first release or the first feature should look like,” Kelly says. “And then let’s get it out there, and let’s put the right mechanisms in to collect data and to watch it, and to see what happens. And then let’s iterate.” 

In summary: collect, create, review, revamp, repeat. “The key is having a cadence and having a rhythm so that you can quickly pivot and you can quickly depose,” she says.

Finetune things

“Having purpose-built digital channels that are tied to business outcomes, those are table stakes,” Kelly says. “And so now, the next logical question that pretty unanimously all of them are saying is, what should we be doing with the data? How do we use that more intelligently, both to create better experiences for our customers, but also to help us achieve the business outcomes that we want?”

Her answer: by narrowing your scope. “So for us, it’s always about making it real and not trying to boil the ocean with it, but really taking more of a surgical knife to [ask] where can we add the most impact,” Kelly says. 

For example: “If you look at a company like Google, they were born out of that single page with an empty search box. And they taught us all the power of data: a few simple keystrokes and then the machine behind the scenes could magically serve up exactly what you needed.” 

Choose simple and brilliant over flashy and superficial.

Three ingredients for success

“We look at data as really fueling the next digital experience, coupled with machine learning technology and the right use cases,” Kelly says. “You need all three of those things: the data, the machine learning technology, and the know-how, and then point them at the right problems to solve.” 

See Amazon’s Alexa. “I bet you have an Alexa in your home right now… So right there, that’s applying machine learning intelligence to data about you, to make your life easier.” 

Data, check. Machine learning, check. Intelligent application of both to solve everyday problems, check.

The dark side of data collection is the potential for misuse. Just check news headlines to see all the potential problems that result when data gets in the wrong hands or is used carelessly.  

“But I think it’s opened up an important dialogue — what’s okay and what’s not okay and when do you give permission? And it actually gives you pause, ” Kelly says. “I’m actually okay with it! It makes my life more convenient.” 

Ultimately, Kelly is optimistic about the potential future uses for data, and our readiness to embrace it. 

“I think because technology and humanity have become so intertwined, and technology’s become woven into so many of the things that you do every day, we don’t even realize how literate we are actually becoming.”