Data Titan: Norman Driskell, Chief Digital & Data Officer
of Corporate Services at The Home Office
Path to power
After graduating in physics and acoustics from the University of Surrey, I got involved in the ISP sector. It was the second half of the 1990s and the dial-up industry was booming. Starting on the sales desk in Demon Internet’s Southend call centre, I went on to cut my teeth on tech support before spending several years as a sysadmin, then moving into leadership roles.
Throughout my career I’ve been involved in internet tech, data and customer service. All three were called upon when I moved to Scotland to run a network operations and customer contact centre for telco THUS (now Vodafone). Returning to London, I jumped to digital marketing and spent seven years establishing a service delivery capability for leading agency Razorfish, leaving early in 2014 as global service director. My eyes were opened here as to the power and potential of analytics and data-driven decisions.
On the search for a new and interesting challenge, I moved to the public sector where I joined the Home Office as their first chief digital and data officer. Home Office Digital delivers digital and data services for consumers and back-office operators. Outside the day job, I’m currently considering a number of non-exec/advisory roles.
I can say, with hand on heart, I love my job. Today is the most exciting time there has been in public sector IT - the scope and appetite for genuine transformation has exposed a world of opportunity and innovation.
Deals and deeds
I recently saw a locally-developed visualisation tool put through its paces. The user confidently resolved a problem in a few minutes that would have taken hours before with previous tools. The flagship projects are great - but I’ve come to find the biggest personal rewards are through genuinely changing how our people work and how the public can more easily interact with government services, particularly in times of need.
So - why data?
If digital is about problem solving, data is the ammunition. Advanced tools, cheap scalable computing power and academic advances give the tools we need - but there wouldn’t be traction without increasing demands on their data from business leaders. Raising organisational data maturity is a catalyst for transformation and that’s a great space to be in.
What is the best thing about working in the data industry?
A growing number of industries are realising they can and should be data-driven and yet their data remains one of the least-effectively exploited of enterprise assets. Robust data platforms are the foundations of our future services. Come and join in, there’s a lot to do!
If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?
I would like to inspire a generation of data-confident kids with skills to use data in their daily decision making, whatever their profession, and in interpreting the world around them - such as critically challenging headlines and poorly-presented statistics.
Share something you have learned that could benefit your peer group
Data can be an abstract topic - your audience may well leave more confused than enthused. Look to tell emotional, engaging and relevant stories that demonstrate a data-driven world. I talk about how transformed public services can help people in need.
And what was the toughest lesson?
Take time to really understand user need. Do you know who your users are? Have you asked them what they need or are you guessing? If you’re guessing, you’re wrong!
What’s on your wish list?
If I could get my hands on Hermione Granger’s “time turner” that would be very helpful. There’s a lot to do and the clock is ticking!
Your social network
I keep a broad network to maintain perspective. Public and private sector data professionals have much to offer each other.