Building on Pandemic-Era Data Science Successes at M&S: Callum Staff

Callum Staff, Head of Data Science and Analytics at Marks & Spencer, discusses his plan to build on his team’s successes over the past 24 months and integrate data further with the retailer’s business processes

At UK retailer Marks & Spencer, most conversations in the past two years involving data and analytics have revolved around COVID-19.

For Callum Staff, Head of Data Science and Analytics at Marks & Spencer, the global crisis meant putting major data science projects on ice to better support the retailer’s supply chain. He considers the move ‘a real shift’ in the relationship between business and data science at M&S.

“It showed the sort of support that we can provide; I want to further embed the data and analytics team in key M&S functions,” he says. “We’ve got tools that allow us to do that, and we want to turn them into fully fledged software. It will help bake my operating model into any project.”

In this week’s Business of Data podcast, Staff talks about how he’s working to build on the ties the pandemic-era has helped his team build with business stakeholders to integrate data further into the company’s operating model.

Making M&S Staff Sweet on Data

One of the ways Staff’s team is already helping to optimize M&S’s supply chain is through space planning in stores. They provide insights to improve demand forecasting and optimize inventory levels.

The data science team has also been involved in planning for a new law regulating the sale of fatty, sugary and salty foods that will come into effect in the UK this April. It will mean retailers can no longer place these foods at store entrances and other main points. Advertising these products on TV and online will also be restricted.

“Our data quality team’s been involved in the conversations around this new law from the start,” Staff says.

But Staff believes he must be mindful of his approach as he works towards greater integration between data science and business teams. He wants to ensure that the models and systems his team builds meet business needs and integrate with staff workflows.

“It’s all very well building a new dashboard or building a new machine learning model,” he says. “But if you just plonk it somewhere and leave it, it’s never going to grow. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how this works day-to-day with people and where it impacts the steps they need to take.”

Success will require constant communication and re-evaluation to ensure Staff’s team’s priorities remain aligned with those of the wider business. But Staff is confident that the greater cross-functional collaboration he’s seen recently will help his team drive further organizational change in the coming months and years.

“It’s really good to have the quants and the tech teams working alongside sales and the traders,” he concludes. “It seems like a really good way of working. COVID-19 showed me that, and hopefully it showed that to other areas of the businesses as well.”

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic has changed perspectives around data. COVID-19 helped Staff and his team show their colleagues how data science can embed itself within the company and add value
  • Provide consultation on key business initiatives. M&S’s data team is playing a strategic role as the organization reformulates thousands of products to meet the UK’s new dietary regulations
  • Focus on alignment and adoption. Staff is keen to ensure his team is developing the right tools and capabilities and that these can be integrated effectively with staff workflows

Callum Staff is speaking at Corinium’s 2022 CDAO UK conference on March 14-16. To hear from him and more than 70 other top data and analytics executives, click here now to claim your place.