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10. Robert Kent, chief data officer, Pets at Home

10. Robert Kent, chief data officer, Pets at Home

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

The Pets at Home corporate strategy explicitly calls out data and analytics as a strategic enabler to the overall pet care vision and supports an ambition to become the best pet care provider in the world. We have long made the commitment to shareholders that we can get more from our VIP (Very Important Pet) loyalty data to maintain a brilliant customer and pet experience. We have set out to embed artificial intelligence within the majority of our key customer processes, as well as being smarter in optimising our business processes.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

It has been a year that has impacted everybody and I’m sure we have all experienced the full spectrum of emotion. Despite this, we have managed to continue with a significant analytics transformation programme, albeit made harder over screens with the team and suppliers spread across the country.


Having recruited and established a great team just before lockdown 1.0, the pandemic threw the team unexpectedly into the spotlight as we scrambled to understand the impacts on our customers, colleagues and the broader business as we were seen as an essential retailer. Insights and data science became a staple to support the business at a critical time. I can’t imagine a better baptism of fire!

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

To continue on our strategy and mature our capability. The pandemic has changed people’s lifestyles and, by spending more time at home, has seen more people get a pet. Our puppy and kitten club has grown by 25% and our VIP customer base increased to 6 million. This is the foundation on which to grow our analytics capability, doing more for our customers as they start their life with their pet.


We have the ambition to see more of our customers use more of our services, be it in store, online, with our vets, in our groomers or taking out regular subscription services. Data and analytics is seen as fundamental in maximising this opportunity.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

We have recently announced our corporate “Better world” pledge that aims to positively impact the life of every pet in the UK, enhance the lives of 1 million people and transform our business to be net zero. As a data and analytics function, we intend to play our part from a few perspectives, for example, through education; diverse job creation and social mobility in the team; machine learning to optimise sustainability initiatives; and recognising the growing importance of data privacy with consumers.

What has been your path to power?

 

I was a lifelong technologist, which subsequently found me in business-facing technology roles for a large part of my 27-year career. I then hit a fork in the road and, in 2010, I led data and analytics as a business function.

 

I spent many fruitful years at Royal Mail, eight of them as its inaugural chief data officer leading the company’s group business intelligence and data science function created from a blank sheet of paper and growing to over 120 exciting data and analytical professionals.

 

For the last two years, I have been part of the executive team at Pets at Home to set out and establish the bold strategy of harnessing the power of data and analytics that will continue to grow the UK’s premier pet care business.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Twice having the experience, from a blank sheet of paper, of creating a talented, multi-disciplined team, all focused on driving value from data and analytics. Then ultimately representing data and analytics on the executive of a great company like Pets at Home.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

This is nothing simpler than growing and maturing our data and analytics talent. I want them to witness the tangible value they create for customers, colleagues and society as a whole by applying and stretching their skills and knowledge.

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

We are fortunate to have a board that recognises the importance and power of data and analytics and the positive effect it can have on our customers and the growth of the business. Therefore, from the outset, how we leverage data and an analytic agenda has been front of mind and aligned to the ambitions of the company.

 

That does not mean all the hard work is done. We have a daily responsibility for helping them understand what that actually means and what changes have to be made. I find that showing stakeholders tangible products is far better than just talking about it and helps bring it all to life.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

It is critically important for us, so much so that we stated it as one of the three main tenets of our analytics strategy. We cannot create analytics for all and embed AI throughout the business relying on a traditional hub and spoke model of analytics distribution. We need the organisation to understand geek and for us geeks to understand the organisation.

 

We are setting out our approach this year which will embrace every level of the organisation. We are ensuring that the central data and analytics function has the right competency matrices to become bilingual – talk business and analytic speak interchangeably, so everyone understands each other.

 

We want our business practitioners and leaders to have a basic grounding in artificial intelligence and how to get the most of data and analytics.

 

We want our frontline colleagues to get more from insight, know how to ask the right questions and, in time, have autonomy to source the answer for themselves.

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