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Steph Bell, senior analytics manager - applied data and analytics, Sainsbury’s

Steph Bell, senior analytics manager - applied data and analytics, Sainsbury’s

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

 

Sainsbury’s is leveraging insight and data-led decisions across all of its brands. It’s inherent within our strategy, with divisions across the business looking to insights to drive their business plans forward. From the expansion of online groceries and SmartShop, to the substitution recommendations made for a customer’s online shop, data and insight is helping us to know our customers better than anyone else and serve them in the best way possible.

 

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

 

I joined the team in February 2020 and any initial plans the team had needed an overhaul once Covid-19 became a reality. We have had to pivot significantly to support the ever-changing needs of both our business and our customers - reacting overnight to changes in shopping needs and producing insight to support our colleagues in making the right decisions. Anyone working in analytics wants their insight to be used and, throughout the pandemic, the work we were producing was launching in a matter of hours. It was an exceptionally rewarding experience to see the hard work of the analysts in my team being leveraged so fundamentally within the business.

 

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

 

Data and analytics will become ever more important as we try to deliver our strategy against the backdrop of the pandemic and the economic repercussions that will inevitably come. Covid-19 has shown us just how ingrained data and analytics has become, and also how rapidly a hypothesis can be taken from concept to tangible business outcome. 2021 is going to be an exciting year.

 

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

 

Absolutely, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the Sainsbury’s annual data philanthropy initiative grow and deliver so much value since its inception by a hugely passionate colleague of mine in Nectar several years ago. Over that time, dozens of charities have been able to unlock power from their data that they would never have been able to access on their own, helping them to make better decisions and even secure valuable funding, meaning they can continue in their fantastic work.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

I started my career as a consultant working within marketing analytics, helping businesses to maximise their marketing spend and delve into understanding their customers. I worked across an amazing variety of client sectors and learnt my trade in SAS and SQL.

 

But I had a passion for seeing our data and analytics solutions put into practice by our clients and influence the results they delivered, so, in 2011, I made the jump closer to the client-side by joining Nectar, the company behind the UK’s largest coalition loyalty programme. Here, I spent nine years getting under the skin of how loyalty influences people’s behaviour and driving business transformation through analytics, primarily for Nectar itself, but also for a number of scheme partners.

 

In February 2020, I made the move into Sainsbury’s to a role leading a team of over 50 exceptionally-skilled analysts that make up part of the centralised chief data and analytics office and tacking some of the most rapid-fire and directly impactful projects I have ever had the privilege of working on.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

An early career highlight, from when I was much more hands-on with data was the creation of a test and learn function within Nectar. Bringing a lean methodology into the heart of the business and enabling us to test initiatives with real customers in real-time and with exceptionally low cost. We would bring talent from across relevant business functions together and launch marketing campaigns from concept to customer in the space of a working day by bringing together people from right across the business.

 

More recently, my highlight has to be the work completed to support the business through the pandemic. Some might say joining the team during that time was most definitely experiencing the deep end, I say it was affirmation that I’d joined the right team!

 

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

 

I have a huge passion for data storytelling and in the last couple of months I have launched a strategy within my area that focuses on harnessing the power of that to deliver even more impact through analytics. With a unique blend of training, hands-on coaching and best practice development, I am creating a bespoke approach for my team that’s reflective of the work we do and how we do it.

 

More widely, I’m also involved with bringing the wider analytical community closer together; with leaders, myself and others from across the business, working collectively to create an unparalleled analytical career experience for anyone at Sainsbury’s.

 

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?

 

Data and analytics are more closely aligned now than ever before, both within Sainsbury’s and the industry. With companies at different stages in their journeys, both from a technical experience and a platform capability level, the one thing that unifies every company is the belief that data, and the people and systems they can use to harness it, are one of their most valuable assets.

 

At Sainsbury’s, there’s maturity within our teams and an appetite to do even more. What helps to bring them together is having demonstrated both the value and the possibility with the data and analytics we have at our fingertips. The more you can consistently demonstrate that ROI, the closer you bring together the two sides.

 

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 all comes down to the realisation that great analytics doesn’t always mean the most cutting-edge coding or approaches. Real power can be driven by a simple nugget of understanding unlocked from a dataset. As an analyst, if you can embody this and are prepared to put in the hard yards to help stakeholders understand what you are bringing them and make sure they can use it, then the data-first mindset will follow.

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