After four years in accountancy, I changed paths to join mobile telecoms. My early career included programme management, product capability development and innovation. My first data project was a rescue mission for a failing customer migration, where I created an alternative to the standard “ETL Big Bang”.
This ultimately took me to a role leading transformation, which included the creation of a central data analytics capability. I then spent three years in central government, initially as a “market-maker” in data, showing how government could inspire UK plc to become a world leader in data services. That led to a role at the Cabinet Office as senior advisor to the chief technology officer, working on the government’s own data strategy.
Returning to O2 in 2015, I set up new C-level led data governance aimed at balancing data innovation with data protection. At O2, I also led the GDPR programme, making it marketing-led rather than legal, with the vision of using GDPR to step-change business and customer benefit.
I look back proudly on my time in government, which was a personal risk having always worked in the private sector. I took this opportunity as I believed data could be a huge force for good, and because there was no better place to drive this than across both industry and the public sector. Without listing all of the individual things I did, I was humbled to be invited to the Queen’s Garden Party, in recognition of the impact of those individual achievements.
I like to read for inspiration – recent favourites are Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad” books, a reread of Pitch Perfect by Jon Steel (everything is a pitch) and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I think Barack Obama’s “Be kind, be useful” guidance to his daughters is also a great lesson for leaders.
I expected GDPR would have had more impact on how brands reinvented engagement with customers about data use. A lot of marketing is still about the business not the customer, and I’m surprised more organisations aren’t preparing for future data innovation by building trust in how today’s data is used. Looking wider, I also didn’t think data and facts could be so easily overridden in public life by personality and obfuscation - there’s probably some lesson in there somewhere for the data industry about the days of personality and opinion winning against facts.
I see two key themes getting traction in 2020, namely ecosystems and decisioning. The first, ecosystems, will enable the combination of data-sets that no one data analytics team will otherwise have access to. This will then need partnerships and ethical data sharing to occur.
The second, decisioning, will be the evolution of data analytics from providing data and insight to providing contextual decisions, which will be more directly useful for the end customers of the data analysis. I’d like to think the ecosystem approach will enable co-operation rather than just acquisition between big data houses and smaller expert data players.
The biggest opportunities will surely come from where the needs are greatest – many of which are in social issues, such as health, city planning and environment. While these are historically difficult to change, it is for that reason they are among the most ripe for data and tech to make a real difference. With data available to decision-makers faster, cheaper and more accurately than ever before, the patterns and underlying logic will be more easily accessible, enabling data-driven decisions to be made with more confidence.
A real issue for mature organisations is how to deal with the legacy of technology and practices that are not historically geared towards data. Tech issues such as managing, mastering and manipulating data, coupled with organisational problems, such as a lack of data governance, resource, accountability and process, lead to significant change activity just to get the basics, such as data quality, right. Driving the corporate desire to tackle this is the challenge – but once that’s been achieved, the real data-driven culture change can happen.