Path to power
A lifetime in data started with a degree majoring in Geographical Information Systems, then setting up an information consulting business (MIC, latterly Claritas, then acquired by Acxiom), which led to a five-year stint at Sky TV as head of database marketing.
After two years as head of customer development at Orange, I then spent 11 years at O2, initially responsible for revenue and loyalty for the consumer business and latterly leading a business-wide transformation to create a centralised business intelligence centre. Ultimately, this led to me heading a global programme to share best practice across Telefónica’s 22 operating businesses.
In 2013, I joined the executive team at News UK as business intelligence director with a brief to put customers and their data at the heart of the way the business works. In two-and-a-half years we helped put data, analytics and insights on the map.
In August of 2016, I joined Sainsbury’s as chief data officer with responsibility for galvanising the business around data and analytics. I’m directly responsible for around 100 data engineers, analysts and data scientists in our data and analytics centre of excellence, as well as having a broader responsibility to provide leadership for the hundreds of colleagues involved in using data on a day-to-day basis.
The consistent theme across all of these roles has been the opportunity to use data to transform organisations to create value for customers and for the business.
What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?
Without a doubt, landing the role here at Sainsbury’s - a business with an amazing history, a much-loved and respected brand and the opportunity to turn huge volumes of data into value creating applications from “farm to fork”. Everywhere we look, there is opportunity and that’s really very exciting.
What do you expect 2018 to be like for the data and analytics industry?
So much of the industry is focusing on the 25th May and the enforcement of GDPR, but I think the entire year will revolve around this. I’m still amazed at how little some organisations have done to make sure they are properly ready. So, I expect 2018 to be a “rollover” from 2017 with my inbox being full of spam from companies offering their services to make sure we are GDPR-compliant.
The shame in this is that we are at a point in time where we should be focusing on the value creation opportunities that data affords us, not purely the “risk management”.
So - why did you choose data?
Aside from having a maths bias, I actually think I chose business, rather than data per se. But I saw the importance and opportunity in using great analytics and insights to create outcomes that could have often profound effects on customers and businesses. I fundamentally believe that data-driven businesses are better businesses and that’s really exciting.
What is the best thing about working in the data industry?
I think my answer last year remains the same - variety and pace, but with the added realisation across businesses that, actually, data and analytics is absolutely central to business, not a peripheral department full of geeks.
If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?
The industry is still littered with people talking a great game, but finding people and businesses that are actually doing stuff at scale that is value creating remains surprisingly rare. So, aside from stopping people getting hung up on what an analyst is versus an insights person or a data scientist (my bug bear from last year), I’d really like the industry to move beyond the talking and into the doing - and then talking about what they are doing!
What advice would you give to somebody thinking of a career in this sector?
I fundamentally believe that you can collect data on anything and that every job can be done or done better with data and analytics. That means anybody embarking on a career in this sector is going to be wholly employable and sought-after. Couple that with the fact that it’s unbelievably fascinating and fast-paced, the only advice would be “go for it!”.