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Katia Walsh, Chief global data and analytics officer, Vodafone

Path to power

 

There are three Ps that define the unique profession of leading data strategy: 1) The power of information to drive change has inspired me throughout life. My career began as an investigative reporter in a communist country. I took risks writing against the regime because I tried to help give people both information and voice, and to contribute to a new society. During my subsequent doctoral studies in the US, I developed a passion for: 2) The power of the Internet to democratise information and amplify its power and; 3) The power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help us predict and drive desired actions and outcomes. Since then, I’ve been harnessing the combination of these three Ps to help transform leading global businesses into customer-centric cultures.

 

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

 

The defining theme of my work is helping make brands indispensable to their customers. At Forrester, I advised businesses on consumer adoption of Internet and mobile technologies to help them serve a new kind of customer. At Fidelity, I used data in innovative strategies to promote its leadership in customer experience. At Prudential of America, I launched data analytics, which transformed the 140-year-old business into a modern, customer-oriented company. And, at Vodafone, I am building data and AI capabilities in its 25 operating countries, enabling it to lead in digital, data-driven and customer-obsessed communications for its 500 million customers.

 

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

 

Staying true to my passion for customer centricity - that’s always the goal, the rest are means to that end.

 

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

 

2018 represented a milestone in enforcing the responsible and ethical treatment of data for customer-centricity. The General Data Protection Regulation took effect with an aim to protect data privacy and empower consumers. Even two years before the Regulation, Vodafone had implemented the utmost controls in accessing customer data, including an ethics code of conduct for everyone working with it and analysing only fully pseudonymised or anonymised information. This practice of always keeping the privacy of customers top of mind helped us win honorable mention in the 2018 HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Awards.

 

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

 

1. Customer-centricity - making data-driven decisions and doing what’s right for the customer will continue to set apart successful companies. 2. Transformation across the board - related to the advent of customer-centricity, data-driven digital transformations will disrupt all industries. There will not be an industry untouched by the power of data to drive customer-centricity. 3. Ethics of data use - we will continue to aim for ensuring lack of bias in machine learning, transparency, and correctness in conclusions, outcomes and actions. With great power comes great responsibility and we must use data responsibly.

 

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

 

People are the most valuable asset of any organisation. We have built a world-class data and digital talent at Vodafone. As one of the latest examples, we are training 100 associates in the latest machine learning techniques and agile methodology, investing in our own people and creating much needed skills.

 

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

 

Customer-centricity! Data analytics, evolving into AI, is the most powerful tool for defining, developing and delivering experience to delight customers. This means knowing them, anticipating their needs (sometimes before they know themselves) and providing personalised, predictive and proactive products for each of our millions of customers - all through data…
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