Centre stage with Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight and Futures at BT…

Centre stage with Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight and Futures at BT…


Born – I grew up in the fabulous World Heritage City of Bath and even learned to swim in the infamous hot water springs of the Roman Baths.

Studied / Education background – my first degree was in Applied Psychology and Computing from Bournemouth University (the only degree where you could study Freud in the morning, artificial intelligence in the afternoon, and be on the beach in the evening). Many years later, I completed a part time PhD on human-computer interaction at Lancaster University, whilst working full-time at BT (not a recommended way of doing a PhD!)

Current role – I head up Customer Insight and Futures in BT's Innovation Team. Despite working for a technology company, I’m not a technologist and I combine psychology with futurology to try and anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organisations (sadly, my crystal ball is broken). I’ve been with BT for over 25 years and have done a number of jobs around the BT business, including research, usability, customer service and business consulting.


What does your role entail?

I head up customer insight and futures in BT’s innovation team. I am paid to think differently and innovatively around the changing customer and the future of work.  My focus is on BT’s Global corporate customers rather than BT’s residential ones. As someone who used to be called a "futurologist", I’ve got used to endless crystal ball jokes - but future trend work is not about crystal balls! I firstly take a critical eye of an academic - research is key. I then add a smidgen of psychology, a lot of insights from BT’s own innovators and researchers at Adastral Park in Suffolk (where I’m based), and our university partner ecosystem. Finally, I flavour this with the pragmatism of someone who has spent quite a bit of time working on transformation programmes in BT. At this point I come up with stew of solidly researched ideas that can help to stimulate strategic conversations about the future with key decision makers.

What made you choose IT as a career?

I didn’t really choose IT. Although I’ve always been interested in technology, I’m more fascinated in the ways in which we use it and how adoption causes disruption and ripple on effects to strategy. My grounding in psychology hopefully complements the skills of the many IT people who tend to be around me – and provides a reality check which stops the technologists getting too carried away! You can’t view technology in isolation, you have to look at the context it is working in, and the problems it is solving.

What do you think is required to be successful in IT?

I think IT people need to get much better at communicating often very complex concepts (like Blockchain, AI and IoT) to people who have very little knowledge about, or interest in, technology. They need to be able to cut through the hype and explain things in simple terms, whilst also bearing in mind that some people feel threatened by new technologies and the change associated with them. Technologies won’t succeed unless people adopt them – so keeping customer needs front and centre is EXTREMELY important.

What’s been your biggest work achievement of the last 12 months? 

There are various things. I won an award for speaking (from the SCTE), did my second TEDx talk, got invited to watch the awesome Professor Alice Roberts deliver a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture, and got called “human caffeine” on Twitter (which I think is a complement!)

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I did the BBC presenters course once (one of the best, but most intensive courses, you can ever do) and the tutor told me to “stop pretending, and just be yourself”. As someone with a theatrical background, that was very counterintuitive to me - but I have done that ever since.

What are your predictions for the IT industry for 2019/20 or beyond?

I don’t really do predictions, since my crystal ball is broken. However, I think fields such as AI hold a lot of promise as we head into the future. Contrary to the negative press about “robots taking over”, I think we have an exciting opportunity to augment ourselves in amazing ways. Think Ironman, not the Terminator. This requires us to recognise what makes us uniquely human, as well as playing to the strengths of computing power. Of course, AI will only work if we can solve some of the skills gaps, data issues, and ethical dilemmas associated with its deployment (as well as cutting through the hype).

Join Dr Nicola Millard at IP EXPO Manchester, 3-4 April 2019

“With all of the talk about the “digital workplace”, my session at IP EXPO Manchester attempts to get to the bottom of what that actually means, how we can redefine work for the digital age, and why Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ might be dead.”