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Rachel Pillsbury, Head of insight, Riviera Travel

Path to power

 

I became interested in data and analytics by chance in my first job at a financial company, having completed a degree in Archaeology at Oberlin College, a liberal arts university in Ohio. This led me to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science at Nottingham Trent University. Having started my career in data as a report writer at Serif, a software developer, I moved on to Gala Coral, where I enjoyed the title of “bingo analyst”, and then on to a position as an insight analyst at Boots, where I spent nearly five years helping it greatly improve its personalisation and data science. At Ikano Insights, I headed up insight for IKEA for the UK, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark, where I learned about customers’ love (and hate) for flat-pack furniture, as well as how important “fika” is to the Swedes. Now, as head of insight for Riviera Travel, where I have created a new insights function, I have seen how companies big and small all have the desire for insight and customer understanding. I can only see that desire becoming stronger in the future. With data being so integral to all companies, it’s an exciting time to be in analytics

 

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

 

Creating an insights function at Riviera Travel from scratch, making the company truly data-driven and training up a fantastic team of strong analysts, most with no previous experience. The pinnacle was being shortlisted for DataIQ’s best data and analytics team in 2018.

 

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

 

Analysts are not always the most gregarious people - I certainly wasn’t as a young analyst. I would say to my younger self - and all new analysts - don’t be afraid to stick your head above the parapet. Say what you think!

 

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

 

For the most part, 2018 was uneventful. However, the first half of 2018 was all about GDPR which came and went without any issues - a pleasant surprise.

 

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

 

I think 2019 will be a difficult year for many sectors due to Brexit and market uncertainties. This will inevitably put pressure on data and analytics teams to provide solutions to enable and create business growth in declining markets. More and more in the travel industry (and this applies to other sectors as well), customers want their experiences to be unique and memorable. To enable this, data must be at the heart of what companies offer and help create personalised experiences.

 

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

 

To build up our insights team, we chose to recruit internally from other areas of the business. Not only do those we have recruited have the advantage of knowing the business and its idiosyncrasies, they bring expertise from their previous positions and create a diverse and well-rounded team. You need only find those who have a natural ability to solve problems, are savvy with numbers and have the desire for continuous improvement and your team will develop organically.

 

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

 

Data science is becoming democratised, allowing companies to establish analytics teams from diverse backgrounds. Previously, data science was reserved for people with PhDs in statistics. Now, with open source and knowledge sharing, all analysts, whatever their background, can learn how to build complex models, machine learning algorithms and engaging visualisations.

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