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Alex Jardine

Alex Jardine, Director of Analytics, Sainsbury’s

Please describe your career to date

 

My degree in Civil Engineering gave me a great grounding in problem solving and number crunching, but it was not the career for me. Instead, I was lucky enough to be able to take those skills and apply them in my first role in the nascent but growing field of analytics, using retail data to understand shopping behaviours and trends. And that was it, I was hooked.

I was immediately drawn to the potential of data to drive clearer decision making; cutting through opinion and conjecture with hard facts.

I spent the next ten years or so honing my craft as an analytics practitioner, helping some of the UK’s finest consumer businesses to put data at the heart of their decision making, as well as studying a part-time Master’s degree in Business Statistics to keep my technical skills up to scratch as the field continued to evolve.

Over two decades later, as I have progressed through my career, my passion to use data to drive commercial advantage and truly transformational change has enabled me to take on a number of leadership roles. That includes my current role as Director of Analytics at Sainsbury’s, where I am incredibly privileged to lead a brilliant team of people developing data led capabilities that are transforming the customer experience and driving significant incremental revenue for the business.

Data literacy is a key enabler of the value and impact from data. How are you approaching this within your organisation?

 

We consider data literacy across two different groups:

  1. Unlocking the full potential of our data and analytical community to deliver tangible impact and value;
  2. Providing business stakeholders with the relevant tools and know-how to embed data into their day-to-day decisioning making.

To really unlock the value from our data teams, we have worked hard to build a data community that brings together over 300 colleagues involved in data and analytics from right across the organisation. Across the community we have introduced several initiatives:

 

  • Skills days. Dedicated time for the team to focus on their own development, be it building technical expertise or working on those all-important softer skills such as data storytelling and influencing;
  • Spark talks to share methodologies, ideas, and inspiration from across the breadth of the business, bringing together data and business fluency;
  • Career pathways and competency frameworks to drive mobility of data talent across the organisation.

For our broader business stakeholders, we have focused on democratising our data through our Sainsbury’s insight platform. The platform enables any business user to interrogate our rich data through a simple and intuitive interface, removing the need to engage analysts for all but the most complex questions. The result drives data into more decision-making processes and at greater pace.

 

We have coupled this with an organisation wide training programme, assured by City & Guilds, to upskill and give confidence to all business stakeholders on the fundamentals of data, how to apply it to their roles and some of the common pitfalls to avoid. This course has now been delivered across all our leadership teams and is a key module within a colleague’s learning objectives.

What are the key challenges to your data function that you are facing as its leader?

It is clear, both across industry as a whole but also within Sainsbury’s, that we are now beginning to reach the point where more and more significant decisions that were previously made by humans – armed with both data and experience – are being driven purely by algorithms.

Combined with the growing rise of generative AI – and the opportunities it creates – we are fast approaching a pivotal moment where there is the potential for a huge step change in how decisions are made, as well as how tasks and activities are executed and delivered across organisations.

As we step through this transition, there is a real opportunity and a huge responsibility for data and analytics teams and leaders to shape how these new capabilities are integrated into the organisation effectively and sustainably.

We need to double down on business engagement to help build a shared understanding of the benefit our solutions can provide, but also be honest about their limitations. We also need to work collaboratively with business stakeholders to ensure we continue to drive the right customer and business outcomes as new capabilities are implemented.

It is a huge challenge, which at the highest level could involve radically rethinking how many organisational roles operate in the future. Winning the hearts and minds of the business will be more important than ever.

Alex Jardine
Alex Jardine
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2023 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2024 (EMEA)