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Rob Kent, chief data officer, Pets at Home

Robert Kent

Path to power

I started out as an accidental computer scientist over 35 years ago, which subsequently led me into business-facing technology roles for a large part of my career. I spent ten fruitful years at the Royal Mail, eight years of which as its inaugural chief data officer. Here is led the company’s group business intelligence and data science function, created from a blank sheet of paper and growing to over 120 data and analytical professionals. For over a year, I have been part of the executive team at Pets at Home. Our aim is to establish the bold strategy of harnessing the power of data and analytics to continue to grow the UK’s premier petcare business.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

The experience of creating a talented, multi-disciplined team, all focused on driving value from data and analytics, and then grabbing the opportunity to do it all again and represent data and analytics on the executive of a great company like Pets at Home.

 

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

I don’t have a single role model or person I look to. I like to watch and listen to people who think differently to me who would challenge my perceptions.

 

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

In a lot of ways, yes. We set out to build a team and an analytic platform and we are well on with that journey. The level of talent we now have at Pets at Home has surpassed my expectations.

 

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

To a large degree, I expect that we will see a more of the same as we did in 2019. For example, businesses will continue to get to grips with AI, and good talent will be in short supply.

 

I hope the use of analytics throughout an organisation becomes more conversational and demystifying the complexities of advanced analytics - to the point that they simply tell the consumer what action to take - would be a huge step forward.

 

There will be an emergence of how analytics can help underpin an organisation’s purpose and play a role in how companies are tackling societal issues and environmental impacts.

 

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

As we know, consumer behavior changes and changes quickly and this is partly driven by a growing ethical and environmental stance. Consumers are increasingly looking to buy products and services from companies who share their values and purpose. One of the biggest opportunities we see is to continue to use data and analytics ethically and transparently, putting the customer and pet first. We also have ambitions to use machine learning that will optimise some of our internal processes, for example in the supply chain, so that we minimise the impact to the environment.

 

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

We are fortunate that data and analytics is not only at the heart of our digital transformation but also at the heart of our business strategy. Therefore, we probably don’t have as many barriers as I’ve seen in other organisations. That said, “time and resource” is always the biggest challenge - always wanting to go faster, implementing as much as you can at the same time and the harsh reality that if you are implementing customer or colleague facing analytic products that you need to mitigate against any unintended consequences.

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