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Gareth Powell, Director of data science, N Brown Group

Path to power

 

I have over 16 years’ experience working with data and analytics in the retail sector. My current role (appointed in 2018) is director of data science for N Brown Group which sees me report into our CEO. Historically, I’ve led marketing analytics, data science, digital analytics, research and MI/forecasting across a number of roles. I lead a multi-disciplined team combining strategic analytics and data science. The team's priority is the alignment of data to create powerful analytics to help support and drive long-term strategic business goals and value. It’s a great team that has a strong work ethic and a healthy dose of curiosity. We have a really robust data asset and are able to harness a variety of tools, techniques and platforms which enables us to drive significant value for our business.

 

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

 

On a personal level, I’d have to say my most recent appointment as a director. Reporting into our CEO is a statement of where the business is heading from a data science perspective and demonstrates our maturity and appetite. A hugely proud moment for me. Analytics has fuelled the evolution of our marketing spend mix through instilling a test-and-learn culture, deploying algorithms to identify where cost can be removed and introducing econometrics, digital attribution and optimisation techniques into the mix. The most pleasing aspect has been the cultural shift that my team enabled.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Make and take opportunities. It’s vital to be well-rounded, so experiencing multiple facets of analytics is key. Build a strong external network. Experiment. Invest time in storytelling with data. Invest time in relationship-building and quickly understand how you can tap into the cultural DNA of an organisation to make a difference.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

It surpassed my expectations massively. A catalyst to this was a thought leadership day on data with our executive board, CEO and senior leadership team culminating in the creation of a centralised data science team for the business. Creating a new division in the business has been a big step and I’m delighted with progress so far. I’ve recently delivered my data strategy and we’ve launched a data academy with Decoded as well that will see an analytics programme delivered for N Brown. This is important culturally.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I’m anticipating a sea change. There is a big shortage of people in the UK with the right data skills right now and some reports are suggesting that Europe will need 346,000 more data scientists by 2020. IBM claims that 28% of all digital jobs will be data science-orientated by 2020. Awareness of data has increased significantly through GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach, so I anticipate increased rigour and caution. I think a natural evolution of GDPR is ethical AI and how we approach making relevant predictions with transparency in decision-making.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

My vision with the data academy is to open up our data capability to more employees and to educate them in how analytical techniques can be applied to data to solve business problems. In doing so, this will better equip our business to pose more focused analytical hypotheses. It will create a bigger network of data scientists that we can co-ordinate and leverage. We want to nurture this skillset by growing our own to complement our existing data science capability. Additionally, we have invested time working with local universities. We’ve just appointed three data scientists off the back of over 100 applicants!

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

I think a game-changer will be the ability to make predictions and harness decision-making closer to real-time. Separately, a key area of focus should be customer profitability. There are a multitude of modelling opportunities that we are exploring. Given the current climate, it is vital that there is greater emphasis on how profitability can be better employed in targeting today’s consumer.
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