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Gareth Powell, group insight and analytics director, TalkTalk

Gareth Powell, group insight and analytics director, TalkTalk

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

 

At TalkTalk, we believe that access to broadband should be a right, not a privilege. In these unprecedented times, connectivity has become more important than ever. In March this year, we saw an immediate 40% rise in data usage from our customers and that demand has only continued to grow.

 

As well as working hard to cater to that huge, unforeseen, unprescedented surge in demand from our customers, we have also had to learn about how they are living and experiencing this new Covid world. Data and analytics supports a number of core pillars, whether this is squad-based or analytical business partner alignment, and this is helping to drive NPS, reduce churn, optimise our cost base, or increasing our penetration of fibre customers for example.

 

We are looking to our data more strategically, too, and have some exciting data science projects underway. We are also exploring how we could leverage our data and insight to form partnerships. We have a unique opportunity to develop data and analytics services with our partner network, too.

 

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

 

Our number one priority has been the wellbeing of our employees and customers. TalkTalk has responded to the pandemic brilliantly and has been amazingly supportive. It’s been a highly volatile year, but our data capability is fully remote, highlighting the resilience of our systems.

 

We have maintained progress on our data strategy which has seen us restructure and integrate analytics across our B2B and B2C businesses. We successfully landed this all remotely, which I think was a massive achievement by the team.

 

While TalkTalk provides critical national infrastructure, we are not immune to the challenges that Covid-19 has presented. We have quickly pivoted as a team to understand how customer and partner behaviours have evolved. This has enabled us to digitalise more rapidly in 2020 using our data to help to understand opportunity. We launched a homeworker package, for example, that was driven by our insight.

 

The pace of delivery has increased as a result of the pandemic. We have had to iterate quickly with some of our data science initiatives. Changing customer behaviour has had a big impact on data, which in-turn has impacted on feature and model stability. The teams have reacted brilliantly and risen to the challenge at such a testing time.

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

 

We will continue on our quest to be truly insight-driven with data at the heart of our decision-making. We have an exciting focus on base management activity, churn modelling, marketing-media effectiveness and channeling our new digital analytics and experimentation team as we look to digitalise our offering more.

 

2021 is going to be a huge year as we see the UK start to leap to full fibre (fibre to the premise). Our data capability is right at the heart of this roll-out, so I am looking forward to seeing how this resonates with our customers and prospective customers through the year. Finally, I want to enable more curiosity with data and insight through our organisation. How we increasingly champion the role (and value) that data can play is a critical ingredient.

 

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

 

Definitely so. Firstly, protecting our customer data is paramount. Prioritising the needs of our vulnerable customers is important to us, but we only know who they are if we have high-quality data. The ethical dimension to our data strategy is something that will only increase with importance, not just for us, but throughout the whole data community.

 

We treat data fairly, in a non-discriminatory fashion and with equity. As our data science capability evolves, we are planning to consider what this means from an ethical AI perspective within the telecommunications sector.

What has been your path to power?

 

I have over 18 years’ experience in the world of data and analytics, predominantly focused in retail, financial services and telecommunications. I’ve been with TalkTalk nearly 18 months now as group insight and analytics director and it’s been an interesting journey navigating a global pandemic for a big proportion of that time.

 

It’s a brilliant organisation and I’m truly proud to be helping to shape its journey. It’s a data-rich sector, a hugely exciting organisation with a great brand and culture, and there is significant opportunity to win with data.

 

My previous role was director of data science for N Brown Group. I’ve led customer analytics, data science, digital analytics, research, BI and forecasting teams across a number of roles in my career. My vision with data is to create a “walled garden” focus on the big strategic opportunities for TalkTalk, as well as creating an environment where analytical business partnerships can thrive.

 

I’ve got a diverse team operating in a dynamic environment and our focus and purpose is on how we can create value through data and insight.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

There were some big highlights in 2019. The launch of a data academy in my previous role was really fulfilling. Being able to support the development of data science as a critical business skill creates the right mindset, future talent as well as career development opportunities for people. Winning an award at Drapers for “Best use of AI” was an extremely proud moment that year, too.

 

Being recognised by DataIQ is also extremely humbling and this is a genuine reflection on TalkTalk, my team and our broader data capability.

 

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

 

One specific goal I have had is to experience analytics in a B2B capacity. I was delighted when my role expanded in June to cover B2B as well as B2C for TalkTalk. We are better placed to tackle business opportunities and understand synergies now as a result of integrating. I’m genuinely excited about what we can create in the partner space with our data and insight, whether that is basic reporting, packaged insight, data science capability or even dedicated resource. We are in a great place to capitalise on our customer understanding and translate this into something meaningful for our partner base.

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 have a data eco-system at TalkTalk that is concentrated within two teams: one a commercially-led insight and analytics function, and the other a technology-orientated data team that provides the backbone of our capability through disciplines such as data quality and engineering. We also have analytical expertise out into core business areas.

 

By developing analytical business partnerships it enables us to be on the front-foot in terms of understanding what hypotheses each domain has. We are then able to find the common threads and opportunity to focus on. By creating that relationship with the business, we can pre-empt questions and understand/inform specific strategies.

 

We also need to have a focused (and ring-fenced) team that is dedicated to the game-changing data initiatives for the group. A symbiotic relationship is required between the analytics and data science teams for insight to truly thrive. We have a big relationship with Microsoft and Azure and they have a great connection through the business.

 

My team consists of strong networkers and there is good thought leadership through my senior team. We maintain a strong presence at industry events, presentations, and local community events. We will be looking to host data events over the next year, as well to enable the organisation to get closer to the industry, as well as showcasing the great work happening within the data sphere at TalkTalk.

 

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

 

There needs to be a strategy in place around this so that people have that totem/manifesto to refer to. Enabling training on cultivating a data mindset is key. This can be approached top-down, but needs to percolate though an entire organisation. Some of the best ideas will inevitably come from people who are closest to the customer, so making them understand the art of the possible with data is key.

 

Showcasing insight and analytics that drive business benefit makes it more tangible for people and starts to create a groundswell. Having the right vehicles to disseminate insight is also critical to achieve cut-through, as is great storytelling. Finally, a good practical step for an organisation maturing with its data capability is to introduce some form of data academy to up-skill employees. These individuals can then collaborate more with the centralised teams and act as change agents for you.

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