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Alex Gray, Director, Data Insights and Analytics, Blue Light Card

What has been your path to power?

 

I started my data career as an insight analyst at Boots using SQL to analyse meal deals, which was absolutely fascinating to see not only the different – and sometimes unusual – combinations customers were putting together, but also opened my eyes to the world of transforming data into insight and the impact it can have in a business. I stayed at Boots for a few years, learning from some fantastic insight professionals and gaining experience across a number of different categories from pharmacy to cosmetics, before eventually leading an analytics team in the bath and bodycare category.

 

In July 2018 I had the opportunity to join Gymshark as one of only four members of their insight team, heading up their customer analytics arm, which was an exciting opportunity to really set things up from the beginning. As the business grew, my role changed from leading customer analytics to customer insight before finally leading analytics as a whole.

 

After just under three amazing years at Gymshark, in which the team grew from four to 40, with half of those in the analytics team, I took the opportunity to join Blue Light Card in December 2020 to set up their data and insight team from scratch. It’s been amazing to see the impact data and insight has had at Blue Light Card so far in such a short space of time, and I can’t wait to continue the data journey into 2022 and beyond.

What impact has the pandemic had on the role of data in your company/organisation?

 

As a business, we strive to give something back to the amazing people in our emergency services and armed forces, and the pandemic has further highlighted how important these people are in everyone’s lives. The impact we’ve seen as a business as a result of the pandemic from a data perspective is two-fold. First, it demonstrated the importance of really understanding what our members want from us as a business, which led to us establishing our first member panel and linking up research and analytics. Second, we broadened our understanding of the partners that our members value most and provided our partnerships and marketing teams with insight to ensure we are securing the best offers for our members, while also sending communications that resonate most, both with their interests and with where they are in their journey with Blue Light Card.

Does data now have a seat at the table during strategic discussions? If not, what will it take to get it there?

 

I do really feel that data is being more and more embedded into strategic decisions at Blue Light Card. Our senior management team turn to the data team for advice and guidance if there is a decision to be made. As a fast-growing business and a new function, there is still definitely an education piece to be done to fully embed data into discussions across the business and eliminate the “I think” mentality, but we are 100% on the journey to get there. I feel highly valued and appreciated as a leader in the business with a team that adds tremendous value in multiple business areas.

 

What are your key areas of focus for data and analytics in 2022?

 

For us, there are three key focus areas in 2022: growth, education and member-first initiatives.

 

I feel very fortunate to be part of a company that is really embracing data and using it to drive decisions. The team is now 10-strong, with plans to grow this further in 2022 to ensure we can meet the data and insight needs of a fast-growing business that is increasingly using data to drive its decisions.

 

Another big focus area for us is that all teams across the business have access to the insight they need to enable data-led decision-making, and we encourage a self-service culture where possible. With that comes the education piece around how best to use the data we hold, where the key gaps and opportunities are and, finally but most importantly, working in partnership with all teams to unlock those key insights and turn them into tangible actions.

 

Our members are at the heart of everything we do, so we want to ensure that they have the best experience possible with us, which puts personalisation high on the agenda for 2022. This will be a large project which will ensure we are sending the right content at the right time to the right member.

 

Tell us what leadership means to you in the context of your role as a senior data leader.

 

For me, leadership in data is firstly about educating and empowering teams across the business to use data to drive insight-led decisions but also to cultivate a self-serve culture while giving teams the confidence to pull the insight they need. Second, I always hire people into the team that can teach me something through a skill that neither I nor the team already has. I think it’s really important to not feel like you should know everything as a senior leader, and I always encourage the team to share ideas and learn from each other to enhance their own skillsets. Finally, and for me most importantly, is giving the team the autonomy to run with strategic projects and ensuring they are given the platform to see how the work they’re doing impacts the business through focusing on the value-add projects.

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role?

 

I love seeing data turn into insight and ultimately influencing decisions across the business. Passion and enthusiasm for data and insight is something I believe is paramount in a leadership role within data and something I strive to showcase in my role and to my team. Collaboration is key, without working in partnership with different teams, data teams can feel very siloed. Talking with and partnering teams on how to use insight and formulating strategies together is a for me in ensuring that data teams are successful in a business.

 

How did you develop – and continue to develop – these skills or attributes?

 

Since my first role in data, I’ve always found translating data into insight fascinating. Seeing the results of something you have suggested with insight come to fruition is so rewarding. so I think passion and enthusiasm have always come naturally to me. I instill this into my team – if they aren’t passionate and enthusiastic about how we can use the data we hold, then the teams we work with won’t be either. On collaboration, I ensure I catch-up with as many of our key teams as possible to understand where their insight gaps are and how they’re using data to drive decisions. This includes setting up weekly collaboration sessions, group chats or catch-ups over coffee. Getting to know teams, what they do and where they are striving to get to can unlock some great ideas around how to use data in the business.

Is the data tech you have keeping pace with your goals and requirements? Are your providers leading or lagging behind your demands?

 

At Blue Light Card, we’re quite lucky that we have built our data stack up quite recently and therefore haven’t had to deal with many legacy systems. There are always improvements we can make, but overall we are keeping pace with our goals and requirements. However, as we continue to grow, these will be continuously monitored to make sure we are continuing to keep up in an ever-changing data and analytics industry. A key part of everyone’s role in the data team is to ensure we are keeping up with the latest industry trends and suggesting ideas for improvement.

 

Alex Gray
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)