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Hanan Belarbi, former head of data EMEA, R/GA

Hanan Belarbi

Path to power

After graduating with a master’s in statistics and economics, I was lucky to start my career working for data consultancies who shaped my technical skillset and strategic mindset back in Paris.

 

I then moved more towards the creative industry, using data and technology in innovative ways at companies like Wunderman and Naked Communications. I joined R/GA, a digital innovation company, nearly three years ago, where I’m responsible for leading the strategic evolution of the agency’s global data capability, helping to create transformative opportunities for clients and ensuring that data as a capability is built horizontally across each of R/GA’s core services.

 

During my career I have worked with some of the world’s most innovative brands (Magic Leap, Google, McDonald’s, Virgin, eBay, GSK) and I have been recognised by peers and industry media for being a leading specialist in the area of identifying, utilising and innovating data. My passion for driving companies forward in powerful and sustainable ways is equalled by my firm commitment to ethical practice and societal improvement.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

The best achievements for me are the ones that are consistent. I am a data expert, but through the years I have had to be a data facilitator/influencer. The one thing during my career that makes me feel like I’m making a difference is when I see a client, a colleague or a partner feeling more data empowered. Data is often seen as a black box that requires people to get outside of their comfort zone, and my success is when I make it less scary and more understandable.

 

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

I give my best to everything I undertake, whatever the outcome, and I always make sure to take the key learnings from my failures. Saying that, 2019 turned out to be good to me. I saw recognition of my peers but also from the creative industry by being selected as a judge in the Creative Data category at Cannes Lions. I participated in incredible talks and debates, moving the data industry forward. I witnessed first-hand a new younger generation coming on the market with an unexpected potential, looking for purpose and ethical practices, which has made me excited for the future. 2019 was such a fulfilling and epic year.

 

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

Like the last few years, 2020 is going to be fast paced, evolving more towards AI and ML, with more and more platforms as a service. The benefit of this will be that less technical people will be able to manipulate and make sense of data and that will only prove and spread the power of data more strongly.

 

Integrating data has been an imperative objective for companies for a few years now. But I predict that we will continue to still see more and more companies failing because they are yet to realise that a cultural shift is required within the organisation to succeed. Because of this, we will see a rise in services that offer organisational change management, as that is key to ensuring successful data transformation initiatives.

 

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

I’m a big advocate that data and technology can make the world a better place, from improved and more accessible healthcare and education, to better ways of living. Opportunities are opening across industries to leverage data and technology to improve people’s lives.

 

Data is naturally amplifying the information economy. The flow of data is not slowing down, and while governments are working on how to regulate this economy; businesses who think ethically of the societal and individual impact of the products and services they develop, and can articulate a meaningful purpose on this information exchange, will win in the long run.

 

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

More than a tech challenge, it is a mindset challenge that most companies are facing right now. The last decade’s digital transformation has been seen only through the lens of technology and not the lens of data - acquiring a set of technologies and not strategising the data that flows in between. Influential data leaders are required to make this change of mindset.

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