Andy Day, chief data officer at Sainsbury’s, is number one in this year’s DataIQ 100. David Reed caught up with him to find out what impact his star status has had.
DR - You are number one in the 2017 edition of the DataIQ 100. What impact has that had - if any - since we announced it in February?
AD - It has undoubtedly given me an extra degree of recognition, particularly in the analytics space. Perhaps they take me more seriously? It certainly has led to different types of conversations where people - especially on the supplier side - know that I understand what they do, so the conversation starts from a higher level, rather than them giving me the 101 first.
Given that I had just started in a new job, it has given me credibility that I might have taken longer to earn. I also have personal pride from it - it is nice to be recognised.
Sainsbury’s has also benefited from the fact that I am in the DataIQ 100 and so is our head of information management, James Morgan. That helps when it comes to recruiting because candidates have heard about us and know what we are doing. The downside is just how many phone calls I got offering me a job! The DataIQ 100 is doing a great job for recruiters…
DR - So what has 2017 been like for you?
AD - There have been three parts to it. Firstly, it has very much been a learning year. I am in a new role in a business that is new to me and which is on a big scale with lots of complexity. I still refer to myself as the new boy, not least because I was just at a weekly team stand-up where somebody was recognised for their 35 years at Sainsbury’s.
Secondly. we have made good progress on getting the business ready for data and analytics. There is a perfect storm now with activities like machine learning and artificial intelligence coming into common parlance. The chief executive of Argos [which Sainsbury’s acquired a year ago] is doing a distance learning course on automation at Stanford University and two other managers are doing data science Masters at MIT. Senior people get the data issues and want to drive changes with it.
Thirdly, we have started to deliver value out of the Data Centre of Excellence. That is important because this is a big organisation that wants to know how to do things better. We still have some work to do on building the team - rather than bringing in 50 new people on day one, we have been steadily bringing them onboard, training and inducting them. But that is starting to pay off.
DR - What is your perspective on the data industry broadly and also the mood among chief data officers?
AD - I would never say it is easy, but there are three fundamental jobs the CDO has to do. The first is to provision the business with data that is trusted and accessible. The second is to put governance around the data to ensure it is used in the right way. That is not necessarily the job for the CDO - our data governance manager works for the company secretary and we have a number of data councils. The customer one looks after marketing data, there is a colleague data council that works with HR, and there is a product data council that sits in the commercial team. The third job of the CDO is to provide insight and analytics.
You have to move forward on all three fronts, not just one of them, otherwise the business will tell you to get back in your box. You also have to hold the ring between those who want to do clever things like AI and machine learning and those who just want the data to be right.
That is why the CDO has to be somebody of seniority in the organisation with the ability and resource to do the job. The more senior you are, the easier it is to get things done.
DR - And what is your outlook for 2018?
AD - I am an eternal optimist, my glass if half full. There is a lot of opportunity around what data can do for the organisation and we have to continue to deliver value to our stakeholders. There is legislation coming over the hill, of course, but that is not a threat, it is about doing the right thing from your customers’ perspective. If you are serious about doing the right thing and looking after your customers, you are in a good position.