After graduating from Durham University, my career started in a technical IT role, which gave me a good grounding and an understanding of the importance of data within IT solutions. The importance of data has always fascinated me and, 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 the success and is important for the whole of a business (it’s not just an IT thing). Moving to Tesco.com, I built my awareness and understanding of data across a multichannel business, focusing on the e-commerce aspects before driving a data transformation as group data director across Travis Perkins, one of the UK’s largest building materials suppliers. My most recent role has taken 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 hearts and minds of a business is always a rewarding part of the job. One of the most significant moments was the building of a Google BigQuery Data Lake at Travis Perkins, which transformed and helped many areas of the business access and compare data across multiple datasets - something that had 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.
Having worked with AWS in my role at Travis Perkins, I was left in awe with the growth, brave decisions and customer “obsession” across the Amazon culture led by Jeff Bezos. Amazon is proving how technology, innovation and analytics can be brought together to create a first-class customer experience and be used to build and grow one of the biggest retailers in the world, accessible by billions of people.
The data industry continues to change rapidly, and every year presents new challenges and opportunities. Keeping up with the increasing variety of new technologies, solutions and approaches is becoming more difficult. In my new role I spent 2019 building a data strategy, gathering executive support and pulling together the foundations for good quality datasets and governance processes.
I have been surprised by the amount of manual data manipulation (and Excel) that exists across global businesses. As these manual solutions continue to grow and embed themselves, it becomes more and more difficult to extract them and replace with improved automation.
Driving value through data analytics has been steadily rising in importance as it becomes clearer that measurable business success comes to those who do it well. However, as data-sets grow (especially in the IoT area), it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to identify valuable and actionable insight from the interesting but useless. Getting this right is going to be key to success in 2020 and beyond and will take a detailed knowledge of business operations, as well as the skills needed to extract and manipulate the correct datasets. I also foresee a need for some businesses to revisit and review underlying data governance in 2020, to ensure the basics are in place as the desire for more data analytics grows.
I believe that predictive analytics gives the biggest opportunity for change across all these areas. Being able to use data to make better decisions about the future and to model scenarios quickly and easily would be increasingly powerful and help to change the way that we assess and do things. However, it does rely on a good dataset with detailed historical information and detailed information about previous outcomes on which future analysis can be made.
Working in a company that has grown through acquisition, there are a lot of different technology solutions across the estate. The challenge of bringing data together from these solutions in a meaningful and automated way has always been there but it is getting more complex. The challenge increases as more data is required and reporting/analytics is needed for meaningful comparison of activities and process between multiple sites and businesses.