I’ve built my career on a passionate belief in the transformative power of digital technology and, in particular, witnessing the positive impact that data, analytics and AI can have on organisations and our lives. My experience spans working for a management consultancy firm, founding and running a software/internet business, leading sales and marketing teams for consumer products, and working at a specialist analytics firm. Data and analytics have been a common thread running throughout. I joined Accenture in 2013 as managing director in Accenture Digital’s UK lead for applied intelligence. It’s a role that puts me and my team at the heart of the massive data and AI-driven transformation now taking place across all industries. We help businesses become “intelligent" by embracing hybrid data models, implementing data-driven operating models and converting data into business insights. Up to now, many companies have focused more on collecting large volumes of data than on generating insight from it. That’s put the balance between information and intelligence out of synch. Now intelligent businesses are redressing the balance with dramatic effect. And it’s a privilege to be helping to make this happen every day.
Since I joined Accenture, the firm’s analytics business has more than quadrupled. That’s a testament to the fantastic team we’ve attracted and developed. Building this team has been hugely rewarding, especially so at a time of such intense demand for the very best data talent. Other highlights include launching Accenture’s Teen Tech Analytics Award, a new prize for schools to encourage more young people to consider analytics as a career. There’s also my role as chair of the government’s Data Skills Taskforce, where we’re helping grow data and analytics skills in schools, further education and industry.
First, while technical data science skills will remain important, the proliferation of APIs means there will be an increasing emphasis on strong business understanding and skills to architect solutions and navigate process and people changes. And, second, the focus on ethics and responsible implementation of AI will intensify still further. In last year’s submission, I predicted that 2018 would be dominated by three big themes, all AI-related. One was more organisations moving from piloting AI to scaling and industrialising AI-driven solutions. The second was an escalating battle for ownership of the voice channel, as home assistants like Amazon Alexa became established as a key route into our homes for product and service sales. The third, as this channel develops, was the first advertisers moving in to take advantage. In the event, the first two of these held, true but we have yet to see evidence of the third.
I think the two themes I identified for 2018 will continue and accelerate this year, and I do expect to see advertisers making moves into the voice channel. There will be major advances in natural language processing (NLP) which will be evident in increasingly intuitive and responsive home assistants, but also in business applications such as customer service. I also suspect this could be the year when there will be some impactful and well-publicised failures in ethical/responsible AI, catalysing this debate.
We place a strong emphasis on cross-training. Many colleagues with latent data science skills (having studied a quantitative subject at university) can relatively easily be up-skilled and cross-skilled if they’re keen, which many are, given the excitement around this area. Also, our alliance with the Alan Turing Institute and other academic institutions enables us to offer internships and placements which often provide a longer-term career path for those students. And we’re engaging with the “Office for AI” on the new AI Master’s programme it is sponsoring.
I’m most optimistic about the ethical aspects of AI. The UK’s heritage in this area, with respected bodies like the Royal Society and Ada Lovelace Institute, positions us to help lead the vital global debate. The UK Government’s investment in the Office for Data Ethics and Innovation is also very important.Business and professional services inc. recruitment