Graduation day: Burberry's data academy bears first fruit

The first fruits of labour from Burberry’s in-house data academy have emerged, following a two-year upskilling programme run alongside digital specialist Decoded.

Decoded works with corporates to help develop courses for their staff in coding and digital skills, in conjunction with their day jobs. Over the past 18 months, those on the Burberry scheme gained advanced analytics qualifications, and developed data science and data visualisation techniques, and Python programming coding skills.

Burberry said the pandemic has accelerated changes in customer behaviour, and acknowledged that historical data is less reliable in mapping present or near-future retail patterns. The Decoded programme is one way keeping staff’s skillset fresh, it added.

Mark McClennon, CIO at Burberry, comments: "It’s important that we continue to offer people the opportunity to grow in their roles and develop new skills.

“Partnering with Decoded to help us build our data academy has been instrumental to keep upgrading data skills in line with the changing shift in consumer patterns."

Audrey Lowenstein-La Deda, customer data steward at Burberry and one of the graduates from the first academy intake, says the course had opened her eyes to new opportunities.

“By giving me the space to think outside the box, the programme provided me with key practical tools which I can now apply to my role,” she notes.

“For instance, I am able to leverage complex coding and forecasting models to systemise and automate GDPR processes of customer records.”

Decoded is also working alongside clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer, to help staff learn new coding skills as part of the organisation’s digital transformation and greater emphasis on data analysis and usage to help modernise its operations.

Reflecting on the Burberry partnership, Kathryn Parsons, CEO at Decoded, says: “Data skills have never been more critical to the future of retail.

“Machine learning and advanced analytics have the potential to make the way we do business exponentially faster, stronger and better. Burberry understands the importance of this and is getting ahead of the game.”

Vineet Bhalla, head of IT transformation at Burberry, suggests the data-driven approach emphasised by the academy has allowed the IT department to apply new skills to everyday challenges.

“Teams can now apply their expertise to key areas like security, master data management and user adoption,” he remarks.

Burberry has deemed the first academy a success, and it is now putting plans in place to launch as second in-house course in 2021. It will expand the initiative across different departments.

Bhalla says: “We’re looking forward to seeing the impact future programmes will have across Burberry as a whole.”

IBM’s Extreme Blue

In another nod to tech skills development, Burberry’s technology team has spent the last three months helping students on IBM’s Extreme Blue internship programme. The theme for this year’s programme was sustainability in fashion, and the participants – aided by Burberry’s digital department – developed a prototype system with the aim of helping to improve product traceability and provide consumers with deeper insights into a product’s lifecycle.  

Named ‘Voyage’, the prototype uses IBM public cloud and the IBM blockchain platform to gather data that might in future allow consumers to understand more about a product’s provenance.

It was designed by the interns to be trialled for functionality in Burberry’s mobile app.