I’ve been leading the personalisation and digital insights function at Walgreens Boots Alliance for over 11 years now. The reason I have been in this role for so long is that it has continually grown in scope, remit and expectations, mirroring the wider data and analytics industry.
Over 20 years ago, I fell into analytics, starting in Boots’ commercial buying function. I then worked as an analyst in the newly formed Advantage Card insights team. My background as a social scientist was a good grounding, and this was a great way to develop my analytical skills in a new team finding its way.
After spending two years focusing on personalised customer communications and predictive analytics, I moved to RS Components, further developing skills across analytical functions with some great people and different business partners. From there I first experienced management at Lands’ End, with a small team covering all analytical elements.
Returning to Boots in 2008, my mission was to build personalisation capability in-house. From the early days of implementing new systems to introducing new channels and taking responsibility for the challenge of developing new personalisation programmes for other areas of the business, it’s been a great experience and privilege.
I have seen a massive growth in analytics in the past 11 years, particularly as the move to digital demands both personalisation and digital skills. Recruitment remains increasingly challenging; there is by no means a steady stream of ready-made analysts. Watching a team and people (including myself) find and develop their careers in analytics and data science, continuing to evolve those skills and deliver great results has been the stand-out achievement for me.
I think it’s useful also to look to influencers outside of the industry. Matthew Syed’s Black Box thinking, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Why England Lose by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski all provide analytical inspiration.
I expected to see more innovation with the use of data as the impact and implementation of GDPR bedded-in, but I think the approach to this has been cautious over the past year. The opportunity created by GDPR: to promote the positive use of data and the benefits to the individual of giving permission isn’t as widespread as I expected. Nevertheless, the growth of organisations exploring the value of data continued apace.
I think the new possibilities created by evolving tech and AI to lead innovation will be helped by the increasingly widespread use of agile methodology and mindset across organisations, a great opportunity for the expertise within the analytical industry. I also hope that we see more quality over quantity in the way data is used to communicate with customers in digital channels, the technology and skills are there and in a world of increasing noise, relevance is a critical differential.
People share their data with organisations quite openly and demonstrate trust in doing so. The onus and the biggest opportunity is from using that data in the most effective way; data has the power to make life easier and/or better for the people who share their information. Those who keep utilising technology and data openly to deliver this most successfully will be the leaders in their sector.
For me it is about keeping a manageable, human simplicity in an increasingly complex world of data and tech. As the ways people want to interact with us grow, develop and change, and the wealth of data concerning an individual also continues to increase, connecting all of this and maintaining a holistic view is increasingly exciting and daunting. The conceptual and tech challenge is to make sense of data and use it in a coherent and consistent manner across your organisation, in a way that makes sense to the customer.