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Helen Mannion, global chief data officer, Specsavers

Helen Mannion, global chief data officer, Specsavers

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

 

As a global data team, we are on a mission to transform Specsavers into a data-driven organisation. We want data to inform future strategy as well as assisting our teams to achieve their goals and aspirations. We have several senior prioritisation forums partnering with all regions across all directorates. This allows us to make sure we are tapping into projects where data can add most value and simultaneously aligns us to the core company purpose and vision. Across the board, data is being used to improve customer experiences and, most importantly, care for our customers’ sight and hearing.

 

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

 

This year has been tough in more ways than one. Saying that, I do believe Covid-19 has had many positive as well as negative impacts. Earlier in the year, as a team, we were looking forward to continuing our transformation journey at a greater pace with a bolstered team. By March we were sadly not in that position. We had had a scaled-back team, and all the projects we had planned for the year had been paused to work on critical initiatives.

 

However, fast-forward to the end of the year and had still managed to significantly transform the organisation, and, although not quite the way we had initially planned, there were many positives.

 

Covid-19 gave rise to an even greater demand from the business to understand performance at pace. This led to a large surge in colleagues wanting to learn how to use the data lake, perform analysis and automate reports and processes. Covid-19 also created a greater need to optimise performance and this drove the desire to trial predictive modelling within CRM and stores. I couldn’t feel prouder of my team this year, through all the highs and lows they have made huge progress on our transformation journey.

 

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

 

We are at an exciting moment within our transformation. We have a growing data user community, growing demand and growing understanding of the benefit data can bring. It is going to be an exciting year and one in which I believe we will make significant progress. The past year has been rightly focused on critical project deliverables. This year we are going to need to have a greater focus on building data foundations which will enable us to gain wider consistency across regions, enable all colleagues to learn from each other’s work and deliver more at a faster pace.

 

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

 

Specsavers is driven by a desire to help improve individuals’ sight and hearing and therefore work closely with various health organisations across the world to achieve this aim. As a data team, we are not planning to directly get involved with data for good initiatives this year, but much of the data and insights we provide to clinical teams will be shared with health organisations, such as the NHS and Glaucoma UK to help the wider population.

 

Most recently, insights shared showed 66% of glaucoma referrals had been missed during the first lockdown, highlighting the impact on a significant number of patients, who potentially unknowingly delayed the start of treatment which would slow down the onset of a condition that causes blindness. This stat has since helped make the case to keep stores open for routine appointments and will be helping save the sight of many people.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

As a child, I loved maths and always saw myself being a teacher. Like many, I continued to focus on what I enjoyed but, instead of entering the classroom, somehow found myself working as a SAS analyst. I haven’t looked back since. I have no regrets, as I love the job I do and relish seeing the impact intelligent use of data can make in people’s lives.

 

As my career has progressed, I have tried to focus on doing roles that I enjoy at companies with great cultures, that align with my values and that have a real customer and employee focus and purpose.

 

I now realise that I love making a difference. Whether that’s transforming how companies use and generate value from data, enabling wider data users to make smarter timely decisions, being a compassionate, curious leader who helps inspire and empower individuals to develop themselves or being an empathetic, kind and supportive mum, daughter, wife and friend.

I feel privileged to have worked in several great customer-focused and employee-focused organisations and with such enthusiastic, motivating people who have provided me with opportunities and experiences to develop and grow. It is a huge honour to now work for a company that focuses on improving individuals’ sight and hearing while being a non-executive director for an educational trust committed to providing children with outstanding education and care. It is hugely rewarding to watch how data makes a real difference to people’s lives.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I am hugely proud of what my teams have managed to deliver over the years and the bottom line benefits they have achieved for the various companies I have worked for. However, the proudest achievement comes from making myself and my role redundant, either because I have managed to change the culture of the company or I have sufficiently upskilled the team. When I left giffgaff, several of my direct reports were promoted and I was not replaced. This was a hugely proud moment for me and my team.

 

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

 

I have a general desire to be the best I can be and help others or organisations to be the best they can be. More recently, I have focused my attention on improving my own resilience and wellbeing, so I am better able to support my team, colleagues, family and friends. I have become far more aware of my thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions. I used to feel selfish saying that I had spent time on myself, but this couldn’t have been a more useful use of my time and I know the process and continual journey of discovery and mindfulness will ultimately be of benefit to more than myself.

 

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?

 

In any organisation it is important that data and analytics functions and users are aligned and working together to help the organization achieve its ambitions. The drive to democratise data and the growing capability for users of all abilities to perform advanced analytics requires organisations to work harder to create a joint partnership between data and analytics practitioners. This shift will create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to become an analyst. This is a hugely exciting transition that will undoubtably require larger cultural change and governance than ever before, end-to-end across your organisation.

 

From a personal perspective, there are two core elements that I think can help bring the two closer together. The first is ensuring you understand the business and analytics users and are aware of their issues and what they are looking to achieve. From this, I would look to find common goals where multiple individuals can find a win-win. The second element is setting up a community model, where all individuals can create, share and learn from together. This enables a relatively small team to gain wide reach and creates a self-serve culture where everyone has the opportunity to create and improve the benefit data and analytics can provide in the future.

 

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

 

This is a process that will require patience and time. However, I would start by considering how my team and I need to behave to lead the change. Do I think data-first? Does my team? What behaviour would I have to exhibit to create a data-first mindset in my team? What would a stakeholder feel, think and do if they had a data-first mindset? I believe all cultural change starts with great leadership and a data-first mindset is no different.

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