I started life as an economist working for the Irish government, mostly focused on education policy and forecasting future skills needs, before joining the strategy function at Freeserve (the UK’s first mass-market ISP). It was in this data-rich environment that I dived deeply into the world of consumer data and where I learnt my trade as an analytics and decisioning professional. My proving ground was a fantastic five years as a consultant at Experian ClarityBlue, working across many sectors and around the world helping companies build and exploit their data and insight capability. Following the purchase of Experian ClarityBlue by Sky in 2010, I joined Sky where I worked in pretty much every part, including marketing, product, customer service and content, as well as in all parts of the insight value chain, including capability development, analytics, decisioning, business intelligence, research and knowledge management and running a series of ambitious change programmes building some ground-breaking new insight capabilities. After eight years at Sky, I joined Burberry in October 2018 as VP data and analytics with a mandate to build on an existing strong foundation in digital analytics and personalisation and to accelerate the exploitation of data and insight across the whole of Burberry.
I always like to think in terms of legacy and I think my greatest long-term impact will be the work I did for the Irish government right at the start of my career. The work we did resulted in a huge increase in STEM students in Irish universities and in the re-training of thousands of long-term unemployed for careers in software and computer engineering. I was a very small cog in a very large bureaucratic machine, but I like to think I played my part well.
I’d give them the same advice I’d give to anyone who is starting their career - the most important career accelerator you’ll ever have is the people you work with. So, find a good bunch of people you can learn from and, most importantly, find a great mentor who can help you grow into a leader. Don’t chase money, fashion or progression for their own sake - they’ll come of their own accord if you get the basics right at the start of your career.
To be frank, I thought we’d be further along the road in embracing GDPR as a philosophy and as a new way of working. Most companies seem to have got the compliance bit mostly right but, as a glance at the newspapers would demonstrate, the big digital platforms have got a long way to go to rebalance the value exchange between them and their customers. Processes and practices have changed, but most companies’ mindsets haven’t shifted nearly enough in my view.
I think our biggest challenge remains re-establishing trust in data and analytics following some of the horror stories of the last few years. In my view, recent scandals and trends toward better regulation are a long overdue corrective to practices and mindsets that have completely unbalanced the value exchange between businesses and consumers with respect to data - especially on the wilder shores of the digital advertising industry. It’s going to difficult to re-establish that trust but, given the power of data to deliver better customer experiences, better efficiency, better public policy outcomes and better commercial outcomes, I’m convinced we can do it.
At Burberry, we’re focusing hard on growing our in-house talent. We’ve created in-house data science apprenticeships for staff who want to retrain as data scientists and data engineers. We’ve got a highly-federated and democratised approach to analytics and, to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its many parts, we’re also creating a Burberry-wide virtual insight practice and capability framework that will provide a framework for career development, ongoing training and best practice diffusion. Looking outward, we’re starting to talk to the wider insight profession to build awareness and excitement about the potential for data science and analytics in the fashion industry and about Burberry as a destination of choice for the best people in the profession.
I think the ability of data and analytics to make life better, safer, more convenient, more fun and more interesting is pretty much boundless. But it does depress me a little that so many of the world’s smartest people are devoting their entire careers to making digital advertising just ever so slightly more personalised. Leaving aside the power of analytics to help us to cure diseases, to protect the environment and to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, I’d like to see companies use data much more to make their staff happier and more productive, to make their products better, to unlock efficiencies and to improve their customer service and experience. In my opinion, the accelerated expansion of data-driven approaches and consumer-centric thinking into the back-office, into supply chains, into HR and into product development is the next frontier for our profession and the development I’m most excited about.