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Michelle de Souza, chief data officer, Age UK

Michelle de Souza

Path to power

I started my 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 chief data officer, unsurprisingly covers all things data.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

I have served on the board of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) for a number of years and, following the successful win of the TPS tender in 2019 and the decision of long-standing chair Colin Lloyd to step down, I will be taking on the role of chair from 2020. It is an exciting proposition and I look forward to bringing the TPS board closer to the DMA to ensure that we are aligned with the DMA’s customer-first principles and belief in responsible marketing.

 

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

A difficult one for me to answer as there are so many. I think we all hope to be fearless in our decision making and know that the desire to innovate goes hand in hand with our appetite for risk. For 2019, I would like to raise a glass to the data pioneers behind the new generation of online banks, creating and delivering memorable experiences in a highly regulated environment.

 

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

In a way, yes. Development opportunities appeared endless, but experience has shown me that in order to successfully deliver these, I need to continue to pay attention to the black art of data management. Assembling data from different silos is difficult and requires ETL and database skills to deliver a consolidated data model with common vocabulary, definitions and standards.

 

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

I think governance will remain at the forefront. As platforms for analysis and diagnosis expand, derived facts from data will be shared more seamlessly within a business. There will continue to be a need for robust data governance tools to help ensure the confidentiality, proper use, and integrity of data.

 

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

Arguably it should make life easier for all us, from improved experience of the more mundane self-service activity that every consumer undertakes. It should continue to have a positive impact in the workplace with increased productivity, efficiency, performance and at the same time eliminating the risk and human errors.

 

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

I think there are still myths and misconceptions that persist around cloud computing. Is it the panacea for all our ills? I acknowledge cloud technology has made it easier to deploy the necessary tech to scale and provides a desirable momentum. However, I think there is still learning to contain and reduce duplication of cost. Also, in hosting multiple applications there is a need to consider the complexity of operations and management.

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