Big Interview: Helen Mannion, Global Data Officer, Specsavers

In an age where retailers are utilising data to analyse their customers’ demands, Specsavers’ global data management director, Helen Mannion talks to Retail Gazette about how the culture of data within the organisation is “transitioning”.

Helen Mannion has served as Specsavers’ global data management director since early 2019, overseeing the design and development of systems used for managing data such as data warehouses, data stores, and business intelligence systems.

Speaking to Retail Gazette, Mannion said the optical retailer, which offers optician services for eyesight testing and sells glasses and contact lenses, is focusing on a data transformation programme.

‘The culture of data within the organisation is definitely transitioning,’ she said. ‘Our mission is to get everybody in the organisation able to use data, whatever skill level they are. We’ve got about 100 people doing detailed analytics now. there’s this really big shift in terms of how many people are able to access and use data across the organisation.”

Mannion said the retailer is focusing on a data transformation programme powered by Adobe.

‘Adobe Campaign has acted as the cornerstone of customer communication for Specsavers,’ she said. ‘Through a centralised data base of customer profiles, the leader in eyewear has been able to book and retain appointments with ease, and at a time where it was needed most during the pandemic.’

Mannion predicts that over the next two and a half years, Specsavers will see a significant jump in data use in workers. ‘There’s a huge amount of value that data can have when it’s tapped into by people who are actively making decisions in their day to day roles.’ she said.

Mannion argued that data ultimately helps an organisation answer any question more accurately.

‘I’m a big believer in that data needs to be in the right place.’ she said.

According to Marrion, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an up shift from a data transformation perspective.

‘The pandemic has caused the business to really understand data and understand why things are the way they are.’ she said.

When Mannion joined Specsavers two and a half years ago, she helped re-platform the retailer’s data site by slowly trying to put all of our data into a centralised data store.

‘There’s a huge amount of data, it’s within supply chain, marketing, retail systems, surveys, and social media.’ she explained. ‘Our main focus at the moment is on our core systems data because we’re really focusing on the nuts and bolts of our business at most. Our aim is to grab all of our different data sources across the organisation and put it into a central place. At the moment, we’ve got about 60 to 70 per cent of our customer data sources. That’s what we’ve achieved over the last two and a half years. But we’ve still got quite a few data sources to pull in so that it’s going to take us a bit more time.’

Mannion’s experience comes from completing her Maths degree and moving on to doing a Masters in operational research. After university, she joined a data team and was managed by a former London School of Economics lecturer in optimisation – who gave her a “good grounding” in predictive modelling segmentation and econometrics.

Mannion also had a “small role” at Telefonica, where she ran the effectively data transformation programme for Giffgaff. ‘When I joined, they had a data warehouse, but they weren’t sure how to create value from data. I really enjoyed that transition.’ she told Retail Gazette. ‘One of the things that I’ve started to realise over the years is the thing that motivates me is really making a difference. I’m a big believer in that data doesn’t really add value until it’s really embedded and used, so you can have lots of great insight but if you’re not using it or doing anything with it, it’s a bit pointless. For me, it’s really about making a difference whether that’s to customers or other colleagues, and that’s why I like managing transformation programmes. They allow you to see a big change, and the more mature the organisation the bigger change there is to make.’

Our mission is to get everybody in the organisation able to use data.

Mannion added that within the Specsavers organisation, she found the opportunity to help upskill and “develop” people’s skills. ‘What’s really nice about Specsavers is that outside of that data transformation area is the opportunity to really help people.’ she said. ‘Specsavers’ purpose, which is to effectively help people with their sight and hearing, has a feel-good factor around it. The culture at Specsavers is brilliant.’

Mannion said that there was some scepticism around data when she first joined Specsavers.

‘There were lots of people who were very frustrated because they couldn’t get access to the data that they needed.’ she explained. ‘Our ultimate goal is that everyone in the organisation has their own data story. What we mean by that is they can clearly articulate how they use data, how it drives value for them, how it improves customer experience and colleague experiences. The second is to be able to answer any question in minutes. And the third is to be able to create value from data as well as put it into practice and embed it into actions. That sums up our journey in terms of helping enable everybody to use more data effectively. That’s definitely where we’re heading within the transformation journey is to try and enable everybody to create some sort of benefit from data.’

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Article first featured in Retail Magazine. 
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