Expert insight – John Gill, Head of Insight and Analytics, Betfred

Can you start off by telling us a bit about your background, and how you came to be working in the analytics field?

I came to analytics via a somewhat circuitous route. My first degree was in psychology, then I did a postgraduate qualification in newspaper journalism.

Obviously psychology is all about the science of behaviour which is very relevant to the field I’m now in – analytics and gaming. Newspaper journalism has also been very useful as it’s given me an ability to communicate facts in a way that’s compelling, and that people can understand.

Professionally, I started out in customer marketing and CRM analytics. When I started working at Betfred I saw an opportunity for the organisation to harness data to drive decision-making, not just on the CRM and marketing side, but right across the business. I approached the Managing Director, and put forward a proposal for a new department, and we’ve grown from there.

My role is Head of Insight and Analytics. I manage a team that is focused on leveraging the data we have to derive actionable insight. We work with stakeholders right across the business, from acquisition and marketing, fraud and compliance, trading and products, IT. I report into a fantastic and supportive Group Head of BI, Group Finance Director and Managing Director.

Betfred has both a retail and a digital operation. We’re currently very much focused on the digital online business. We have a relatively small but productive team of analysts and data scientists and we’re growing. Where previously we tended to focus on transactional data, we’re now also harnessing and unifying web browsing data.

Do you tend to focus on using the data to answer specific questions or do you do more exploratory analysis?

It is a combination of both but I would like it to be more proactive than it is, in the sense of being able to do exploratory work. The reality of the level of demand that we have is that we’re often working to stakeholders’ requests. It’s certainly part of my intention and strategy moving forward that we can become, as we continue to grow, more exploratory and proactive.

What sort of challenges face organisations like Betfred at the moment?

It’s extremely competitive. There are so many companies and, as everyone knows, there’s been an explosion of both online and TV advertising. Therefore there is a challenge to work efficiently on spending money to bring customers to the business and ensure the product and whole experience maximises retention. That’s obviously a big challenge.

Another challenge for us has been the desire to innovate quickly, but within the constraint of the limitations of our underlying platforms, which is one of the reasons why we’re developing our own platform.

An exciting aspect about Betfred is the owner’s (Fred Done) entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit, which gives confidence in the company’s ability to innovate and overcome challenges.

A key challenge, but an opportunity as well and something that I’m very focused on, is responsible gambling. It’s a key priority for me and for the business, how we can use data to ensure that we’re more proactive when it comes to understanding and identifying customers who may be at risk of having problems with gambling.

What are the ways in which analytics and data might help you with the challenges that you mentioned?

I touched on the responsible gambling. We’re using insights from our data to try and predict customers that may exhibit patterns or we believe may have problems with gambling, because we’re very much committed to ensuring that customers only bet with us what they can afford. It’s such a competitive industry, and we want to win that share of wallet, but we want that to be done in a responsible way.

One other point that’s a key focus for us is UX. For me, the customer experience on your platform, on your app, the customer journey of depositing and playing, are absolutely key to whether you will become a primary account for a customer. We’re using data to drive forward that UX agenda, and to help embed those principles that data should drive the changes that we make, through testing, optimizing and learning.

We know that a high proportion of customers have multiple accounts, but often, if you have a unique product offering for a customer, something that sets you apart, you will see customers come back. Obviously, we understand that there are a range of factors that are important to customers, and we have multiple products and different aspects of those products appeal to different customers.

For example, we’ve used data to optimise our mobile registration process. We know that making the process simpler for the customer right from the outset can have a big impact on the customer experience.

Do you see any other opportunities for how you might be using the data that you’ve got and the analytics tools that are available to you, if you had unlimited time and budget?

Many organisations talk about single customer view. For me, that’s something that we are practically working towards. I think that we have rich sources of data but often we’re not connecting those dots so I think we could do more with that.

A very simple and practical example of that is understanding a specific customer who may have been browsing on our Responsible Gambling page. Now that customer may not have taken any action in terms of self-excluding, or using a timeout, or one of these tools, but that data point, combined with other key data points, may help us build a picture of potentially problematic behaviour.

Utilising data for personalisation is another area that presents big opportunities.

How have you seen working in analytics change over the course of your career?

A couple of things I’ve particularly noticed are the growing demand for real time data and, associated with that, a greater volume of unstructured data and, indeed, larger datasets overall. Things are generally getting bigger and quicker.

Another change, certainly in this organisation, is a much more positive recognition of the benefits of using data to actually drive decisions. That’s been quite a cultural shift. Of course data and analytics don’t replace experience – they need to work hand-in-hand. In my role, one of the challenges I’ve faced historically has been convincing stakeholders that data analytics is a positive thing that can assist them in their work.

What advice would you give people who were thinking of entering analytics in terms of what kind of career they can expect, what skills they might need and so on?

When I’m interviewing candidates someone may not necessarily have a high level of experience in analytics, but that’s OK if they have a certain level of intelligence, an inquisitive mind-set and good attention to detail – those are the kind of skills that I often look for.

We have people in our team who have come from all kinds of different backgrounds. Some come from a pure analytics background but others, including myself, have come through completely different routes. Really what you need to have is the instinct to ask the right questions, that’s a real asset in any kind of analytics role.

That said, you also need to be clear on what the objectives of your analysis are to maintain a clear focus. On the one hand I’d encourage people to dig deeper and look for the unexpected insights, but on the other it’s important to remember that we have deadlines and budget limitations so there’s always a balance to be achieved. The objective is always to try and generate insight that is actionable in the sense that it delivers real value to the business.