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Michelle de Souza, Chief data officer, Age UK

Path to power

 

Back in the day, I started my fledging data career at AGB (now Kantar TNS) with a wonderful job title of “special analysis assistant” which, of course, didn’t reflect either the miniscule salary or the rather lowly duties that the role entailed. Naturally, I’m disappointed that, since that time, no-one has ever, in data terms, thought to refer to me as “special”, although I live in hope! Career-wise, I continued on the data path, following this role with employment at both Argos and the Arcadia Group before joining Age UK, where my current role as CDO, unsurprisingly covers all things data.

 

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

 

There was increasing turmoil in data-driven industries during the 18-month period prior to the 25th May 2018 when GDPR became law and a certain amount of angst has persisted. I feel that I have been placed in a unique position as a board member of both the DMA and the TPS in addition to my responsibilities as CDO at Age UK. The understanding and knowledge I have - and probably continue to acquire - is probably best described as providing a real-time “dual view” of the anxieties and unease experienced by the cross-industry collective versus the more unique challenges faced by an individual organisation.

 

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

 

Data is one of the fastest-moving industries. Embrace it for what it is, an opportunity to learn and remember that failure to do so means that you may get left behind! Also, if you’re in a job and you are not learning new skills, either use your own time to develop or leave and find a role where you will get development opportunities.

 

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

 

Predictably, yes. Much resource and income was lost in the preparation for GDPR. Meanwhile, we witnessed lots of disruption to key sectors of industry which sadly data didn’t predict, but simply confirmed.

 

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

 

I’m hopeful that the data industry will regain some of its chutzpah and, in order to do that, it needs to regain its collective confidence. An organisation should review its risk appetite towards buying, capturing, storing and using data and this is regardless of the level of the sophistication of the technology used. In order to survive, brands, regardless of sector, must continually evolve and take risks while staying true to the values that made them a success in the first place. I believe that data will be at the heart of this conversation.

 

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

 

Age UK is looking to develop the role of apprentices across the organisation. The CRM teams are in the process of recruiting an apprentice and are excited at the thought of being able to train a team contributor at the very beginning of their career. Injecting some youthful talent, we hope, will bring with it a fresh perspective and new ideas. It will also encourage us to look at the way we do things because we are passing on our knowledge and expertise to people keen to learn how we capture, store and use data.

 

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

 

Whether it’s embracing new technologies or conquering rising expectations and activating the latest customer insights, there is an opportunity to give customers what they want - seamless, outstanding experiences. Organisations that develop customer-centric internal cultures, together with the implementation of systems and processes, will undoubtedly reap the benefits of improving their customers’ experiences.

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