After graduating from Durham University, my career started in a technical role as a programmer of IT solutions for the John Lewis Partnership. This gave me a good IT grounding and an understanding of the importance of data within IT solutions. I developed a great base from which I could grow both my technical, but also business-related skills. As my career developed, I moved steadily away from the detailed technical aspects (although I still dabble!) towards using data to drive business value and benefit. What became important to me was how data drives success and is important for the whole of a business. (It’s not just an IT thing). Moving to tesco.com, I grew my awareness and understanding of data across a multi-channel business, focussing on the e-commerce aspects before driving a data transformation as group data director across the UK’s largest building materials supplier, Travis Perkins. My most recent move takes me into the manufacturing sector, specifically into aerospace, and has opened up a world of opportunity for me to use data in order to make a difference, identify operational efficiencies and streamline customer opportunities.
There have been many highlights, but transforming the hearts and minds of a business is always a rewarding part of the job. Building a Google BigQuery data lake at Travis Perkins transformed and helped many areas of the business to access and compare data across multiple datasets, something that that been difficult to achieve previously. This drove more self-service reporting and analytics, but also meant that businesses were able to spend more time understanding what the data was telling them and the actions to take, rather than having to manipulate and align data.
Stakeholder management is important. Take time to understand the business’s motives and work to identify the questions that have the most value. Use data to identify patterns and answers, ensure actions are identified and taken. Then measure to prove and explain the benefits driving ambition for more across the business.
The data industry is changing rapidly and every year presents new challenges and opportunities. In 2018, the work carried out on master data and the data lake in previous years was now starting to offer valuable, new and exciting stories involving data analytics and self-service reporting. Personally, 2018 also brought an exciting opportunity for me to take the lead in driving a global data transformation at a leading manufacturer in the aerospace Industry, providing value using data to identify operational efficiencies and improved decision-making.
Driving value through data analytics has been steadily rising in importance as it becomes clearer that measurable business success comes to those that do it well. I see this will continue to grow, but there is an underlying need to ensure that the foundational data elements (master data, data architecture, etc) are in place and of suitable quality, otherwise there is a risk that analytics sets false expectations. I foresee a need for some businesses to revisit and review underlying data governance in 2019 to ensure the basics are in place as the desire for more data analytics grows.
Identifying and building talent within an organisation is important and I’ve alway been keen to offer opportunities to internal colleagues, backed up with training, support and encouragement. When venturing into new technologies or areas, I tend to look to bolster the team with experienced resources, bringing them in to compliment the team or by working with trusted external partners to bridge capability gaps and handover to internal resource to become self sufficient.
As an industry that is still developing, there are areas that could offer improved business value through data. I’m an advocate of making it easier for business users to use data to identify actions. Self-service and natural language data analytics processing are areas that I am very optimistic about.