In the words of Dave Holland, head of data and insight at Coventry Building Society, sorting out the data foundations of the organisation “is where the journey starts,” rather than being an end in itself. As anybody who works in data knows, just getting started is never easy and Coventry had already made one investment cycle into its data infrastructure before Holland arrived in 2016, putting in place an IBM-based solution with Netezza analytics, Cognos and SAP BI overlays.
That data warehouse and its associated centre of excellence “was the first instance of data being anything other than something people did in their spare time,” he recalls. “It became a point of focus. Like most regulated businesses, that came from a defensive place, so the initial investment in a data platform was all about doing regulatory reporting better and existing systems, notably Business Objects, going out of support.”
As Holland recalls, the next iteration was expanding data beyond just MI and putting in place a data strategy that led to creating a data governance practice and a data science team for the first time. “Let’s start building up those capabilities, see what we can do and build some appetite,” he explains.
Small steps and incremental increases in capabilities, including creating a data inventory and data governance framework, together with showing benefit from data science, were the second iteration of data for the society. Now, in its third phase, “we need to get serious about this. We have burning platforms that need addressing.”
Instead of replacing older systems with similar replacements, the vision is to create a data fabric, build better tooling that will allow it to “do more and ask better questions of data.” AWS is being used on a pay-as-you-go basis to keep the cost of entry low, an important consideration for a mutual organisation which has 1.5 million saver-members and assets of £51 billion, but where serving the interests and needs of those members is paramount.
“Our ongoing project includes migration to that new platform, establishing a data mart - something we’ve been promising our stakeholders for years - and the jumping-off point for better visualisation and analytics. That’s in the next iteration,” says Holland. This could lead to those stakeholders using natural language search for data and insights, rather than building conventional dashboards, for example.
“I don’t want them to need to go and get or manipulate data - they should be doing the visualisation and storytelling on top of it,” he explains. “Everybody should be able to access the top 50 metrics and slice them for themselves.” Behind that, an industrial data pipeline will feed into ad-hoc queries and ongoing requirements.
New CFO Lee Raybould, who unusually was previously a chief data officer at Nationwide Building Society, “knows everything there is to know about data, which is an asset”. That helps with making the investment case for the Coventry Building Society of the future. “One of the things we are known for - excellent customer service - you need to be able to scale and offer to the same level across all channels,” says Holland. To make that journey, you really do need firm data foundations.
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