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Rachel Pillsbury, head of insight, Riviera Travel

Rachel Pillsbury

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 and then on to a position as an insight analyst at Boots, where I spent five years helping them greatly improve their personalisation and data science.

 

At Ikano Insights, I advised on the best locations for new IKEA stores in the UK and Ireland, as well as creating innovative segmentations for IKEA in Sweden and Denmark, which allowed the company to move forward significantly in its understanding of customers.

 

In my current role, I have created a new insights function and have seen how companies big and small all have the desire for insight and customer understanding. Most recently, I have created a single customer view that can underpin any tool used for customer understanding, giving Riviera Travel that coveted one version of the truth.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career 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 recognised by DataIQ, by being shortlisted in 2018 and as part of the top 100 in 2019.

 

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

I look to many peers for inspiration, but especially women at the top of their professions, such as Helen Hunter (group CDO at Sainsbury’s) and Anita Fernqvist (CDO at Zurich Insurance UK), who are both great communicators and effectors of change.

 

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

In terms of analytics, I have been surprised how much people and companies are returning to a focus on getting the basics right. While we are all still looking to new technologies and techniques to improve, we can’t ignore that putting proper foundations in place leads to effective transformation and change.

 

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

I think 2020 will be a difficult year for many sectors due to continuing 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.

 

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

As data science has become more democratised, companies and sectors that have previously outsourced or overlooked analytics will start seeing the value of being data driven. Additionally, data science and analytics will be used more frequently in not-for-profit and public sector industries, where the goal is societal improvements.

 

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

This biggest challenge isn’t necessarily technical, it’s persuading colleagues and stakeholders that pursuing new techniques and technology is the right thing to do. Ultimately, it’s about collaboration and encouraging companies to embrace change.

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