Michelle de Souza

Chief data officer
Age UK

Path to power

Back in the day, I started my fledging data career at AGB (now Kantar TNS) with a wonderful job title of “special analysis assistant” which, of course, didn’t reflect either the miniscule salary or the rather lowly duties that the role entailed. Naturally, I’m disappointed that, since that time, no-one has ever, in data terms, thought to refer to me as “special” - although I live in hope!

Career-wise, I continued on the data path, following this role with employment at both Argos and the Arcadia Group, before joining Age UK where my current role as CDO unsurprisingly covers all things data.

As a data practitioner, I have a healthy interest in practical data know-how and have substantial experience in planning and executing data management strategies and designing data governance policies/standards. This, together with an ability to assess the value and potential benefits of new technology architectures, means that I have enabled Age UK to drive operational efficiencies and align data to its strategic development and commercial goals.

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

If I were to equate highlight to satisfaction, then I would like to mention the unique opportunity that working at Age UK provides and that is to work with a disparate mix of data including traditional charity categories, donors, supporters and beneficiaries who seek help to financial services customers who buy insurance and equity release from us, as well funeral plans.

What do you expect 2018 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

GDPR will be the big differentiator. Organisations seeking to be compliant will either successfully align the compliance process to their commercial objectives and, in doing, so will not have comprised their strategic objectives and income generating activity. Others may find the compliance route that they have chosen proves to be financially challenging.

So - why did you choose data?

I’ve always enjoyed working with data. There is a certain level of satisfaction about driving evidenced-based decision-making. Over the years, I’ve seen attitudes change towards data, from disinterest to almost reverence. I particularly welcome the increase in the number of organisations saying data is changing the way they do business.

What is the best thing about working in the data industry?

To quote the eminent W. Edward Deming - educated initially as an electrical engineer and later specialising in mathematical physics who helped develop the sampling techniques still used by the US Department of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics - “without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”

If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?

Relatively speaking, I think we’re a shy bunch of people. I do think we’ve become better at telling the world about what we do. But I’d really like to see more data specialists stand up and tell industry about the exciting projects that they are working on.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of a career in this sector?

I’ve lost count of the number of successful individuals in my team who literally “fell “ into their roles.



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