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Eleanor Armiger, head of analytics, British Airways

Eleanor Armiger

Path to power

BA is an iconic brand with a complex, global operation, and myriad opportunities to use analytics to drive evidence-based decisions. After securing a graduate role nearly 20 years ago, I’m still there and still loving it.

 

My years in the operational research team were notable for their breadth of intellectual challenge. I used simulation to refine airside road systems and the intricacies of the subterranean baggage system, and queuing theory to optimise standby crew patterns and the operation of T5 shuttle trains. I supported negotiations when airline mergers were in the air; explored feedback on the catering offering; modelled the movement and handling of engineering parts and designed algorithms that sit within core BA systems.

 

Within network planning, I considered which aircraft to fly where, and how often – in particular, how to go about making these decisions. While in strategy, I was instrumental in writing four annual business plans, which set our corporate direction; an unparalleled opportunity to hone my influencing skills.

 

In 2018, I returned home to analytics to head-up the newly formed central analytics team - the smartest group of people I know.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Strong financial discipline following the global financial crisis of 2008 soon put BA in the enviable position to upweight investment in the customer experience. In the strategy team, I was well placed to make this financial case and propose where investment should be focused. I translated sophisticated statistical modelling by the operational research team to C-suite level recommendations – we should invest in catering and customer service. And we did. A satisfying case of statistical insight driving significant tangible change – the impact is now seen clearly in the meals we serve on board and in our Net Promoter Score figures.

 

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

Ada Lovelace, born 1815, saw opportunities in the new “Analytics Engine” beyond those of its inventor, and is recognised by many as the writer of the first computer program. Her intelligence, mathematical ability, but most notably her vision, have paved the way for today’s data and analytics industry.

 

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

Looking back on 2019, I am amazed at the amount of beneficial change we enacted within my department, as well as maintaining, and even accelerating, the pace of delivery for the company. With a bold vision set corporately, and a clear mission directing how central analytics can help, many of my team have stepped forward to lead on, and to support others, with changes that will make us stronger and fitter. More evidence, that, after building a brilliant team, the best thing a leader can do is get out of the way.

 

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

“Permission to grow” is a term we’ve used within BA for many years to describe the moral argument behind the sustainability/environmental actions that we must do within aviation to be allowed to grow our fleet, recently demonstrated by our public commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

 

As data and analytics pushes further into everyone’s lives, “permission to grow” in analytical terms will be determined by success in appropriately managing data security and the ethical use of data, and the recognition of this in the public mindset. This must be a key focus in 2020.

 

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

We now have more data, and messier data, than ever before. Paired with this are growing customer expectations on how this information should be seamlessly collated, processed and intuitively presented. And between those two states is us: the data and analytics industry. A huge challenge, and a huge opportunity. It’s going to be fun.

 

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

BA already has an excellent integrated, cross-company on-premises relational data warehouse to power our analytics. We continue to invest in this warehouse – as well as saving us time and effort in every analytics project, the facility it gives us to explore relationships across different data sources generates huge value. However, we will be able to do even more when our new cloud-based data lake is more fully rolled out.

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