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Gareth Powell, insight and analytics director, TalkTalk

Gareth Powell

Path to power

I have over 17 years’ experience in data and analytics, predominantly focused in retail and financial services. In October, I joined TalkTalk; it’s a data-rich sector, a hugely exciting organisation with a great brand and culture and there is a significant opportunity to win with data.

 

My previous role was director of data science for N Brown Group and I’ve led customer analytics, data science, digital analytics, research and MI/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. The focus is on how we can create value through data and insight.

 

I’ve got a diverse team operating in a dynamic environment; half the team are new to TalkTalk (and to telecommunications), while the other half provide real expertise of the sector and data. This mix means we have a cacophony of ideas and great collaboration opportunities.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I draw on experience from a diverse network (both data professionals and more broadly). One person who is a constant source of knowledge is Matthew Tod (CDO at Logan Tod & Co). Matthew is an impressive speaker, is always at the vanguard of data innovation, and a great collaborator and sounding board.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

There were a few highlights last year. 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. Winning an award at Drapers for “Best use of AI” was an extremely proud moment in May. I’m hugely proud of my time with N Brown and making the transition to TalkTalk is the next big chapter in my career. If I had to single out one transformative initiative, it would be how analytics was leveraged to fuel the evolution of N Brown’s marketing spend mix.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I draw on experience from a diverse network (both data professionals and more broadly). One person who is a constant source of knowledge is Matthew Tod (CDO at Logan Tod & Co). Matthew is an impressive speaker, is always at the vanguard of data innovation, and a great collaborator and sounding board.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

It surpassed my expectations massively. From delivering a data science strategy with N Brown to transitioning to telecommunications with TalkTalk, it has been such a rewarding journey. Broadband services are fast-evolving and it’s fascinating to understand consumer perception and expectation. For example, TV is going to be a highly interesting space in 2020.

 

My focus is now broader – enabling a group-wide data strategy across all analytical disciplines. The opportunity to thrive in an entirely different vertical is hugely exciting. The beauty of the data sector is that ability to traverse different verticals: it’s essentially similar application opportunities but with different data.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

As organisations seek to get closer to their customers, it is imperative to harvest the voice of the consumer. I therefore expect significant growth in natural language processing (NPL) and conversational analytics. According to Gartner, by 2020, 50% of analytical queries will be generated via search, NLP or voice, or will be automatically generated.

 

General consumer awareness of data, analytics and algorithms continues to grow. I expect a greater focus on data explicability. Organisations will need to be able to explain decisioning from a regulatory perspective. Specialists that focus on “doing the right thing” with model deployment (ethical use) and development (avoiding bias) will begin to become more prominent, ensuring that reputational risk is mitigated.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

I think there is further opportunity to capitalise on human curiosity around data consumption, whether that provides insight on historical performance, trends or pro-active strategies. Fitness is an obvious area where this is being employed successfully, but it has the potential to feature more prominently, whether that is via smart meters for utilities, self-serve capability on websites/apps or in healthcare. The days where people can self-diagnose as an initial step in healthcare are not far away.

 

I also think there is an opportunity for the data community to rethink what vulnerability means in society. Ethically, we should more pro-active when it comes to identifying vulnerable customers and helping to manage their experience.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

Most organisations are making the transition to cloud data capability. Having this vision is key and it needs buy-in from across the business, technology and board. TalkTalk is right in the middle of this crucial and exciting journey. I think the biggest challenge for most organisations is ensuring that the technology seamlessly joins.

 

A common challenge exists which is that every piece of technology will profess to have its own proprietary AI. The reality is usually very different and having multiple brains influencing the customer experience creates confusion for the customer. The key to success is to have the right data to enable the right (and consistent) decisioning at the right time.

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