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9. Tom Spencer, head of customer data science, Aviva

9. Tom Spencer, head of customer data science, Aviva

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

As an insurer, data and analytics has been at the heart of what Aviva does for over 300 years. Our company purpose is “with you today, for a better tomorrow”. Data and analytics helps us excel at understanding risk in people’s lives so we can create products and services that help customers “defy uncertainty”.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

It was certainly different! As a business, Aviva responded extremely well and I feel proud to be part of a company that really does put customers and colleagues first. For our customer data science team, many of the high-level objectives were consistent, but with renewed impetus to use data to shine a light into a blind spot caused by the pandemic. That said, there were a lot of things the data couldn’t tell us. So I think the real win was closer collaboration to support data-enabled decision-making. Working from home has been a leveller in some ways, helping us get closer to teams who might otherwise have been difficult to connect with.

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

We have a new CEO with a very compelling and energising vision. We are already seeing some really positive momentum and our customer data science team will continue to use data to help Aviva put the customer first. I expect closer collaboration across the business and a real pragmatism to get things done.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

It is, although I can’t take the credit. Some of my team members are taking the lead on developing a data for good program. We’ve done some before, but this is the first time we’ve really tried to make it something more systematic. It’s early days, but extremely exciting and a great way for our team to use our skills to make a difference where it matters.

What has been your path to power?

 

My undergraduate degree was Biochemistry. I was all set to do a PhD, but got so bored stuck in a lab all day, I decided to pivot into business. I found out about a small (at the time) company called dunnhumby which was doing exciting things blending the art of marketing with data science and the exhilarating pace of retail. It was a perfect match, and I was fortunate to be part of their explosive growth for the next 14 years.

 

My first role was customer data analyst (effectively what we’d now call a data scientist) where I cut my teeth analysing large retail datasets. In 2008, I relocated to Seoul to set-up dunnhumby Korea as the analytics lead in a two-person team working shoulder-to-shoulder with Tesco. I spent the next nine years in Asia, two years based in China building and leading the region’s analytics teams, and then latterly as country head of the South Korea business.

 

I am now back in the UK as head of customer data science at Aviva, leading a world-class team focused on using data to understand customers and take better actions.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Retaining our Best place to work in data recognition at the 2020 DataIQ Awards. I was over-the-moon to win it in 2019, but to retain it in a strong field was unbelievable. Full credit to our customer science team, but also our Aviva colleagues and leadership - testament to the talent and culture we’ve built, all enabled by a supportive, collaborative company.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

Unfortunately, I can’t give away specifics for my current company, but I can safely share that I would like to work overseas again at some point in my career. It is such a powerful experience and I’d encourage anyone to jump at the opportunity.

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

To be honest, I don’t like the term, “the business”. It automatically creates a “them and us” mentality - we are all “the business” and we’re all in it together. At Aviva, data and analytics is represented on leadership teams across the company. We work extremely collaboratively, embedded in cross-functional teams where possible. There is no substitute for working shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues to understand problems, iterate the work, and get results fast.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

You need to give people the building blocks - the training and tools - and help them understand how they can be supported them. That said, in my experience many people are already hungry, but access to data and insight can often be the real stumbling block. An organisation needs to ensure data privacy and security are paramount, but still allow democratisation of data access and usage. There will always be a need for more sophisticated work requiring data specialists - it’s not simply about bringing other colleagues up a notch.

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