How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Over the last few years, we have been steadily increasing the areas where centralised trusted data and analytics are used in measuring business performance, up to board-level reporting. This year we are explicitly linking our data and analytics capability build-out plan to our corporate objectives. This means we really are putting data and analytics into the heartbeat of assessing and defining the necessary actions to drive performance.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
As with many organisations, our 2020 activities had to be replanned to take account of the external events of the year. The need for mobile communications was even more prevalent during the crisis, for many reasons, such as supporting our customer-base making the change to working from home.
This, of course, led to an overall change in the pattern of mobile phone traffic for mobile operators. Data and analytics played a significant part of assessing those changes in patterns. Planned activities were reviewed and unplanned ones prioritised and introduced based on what the data was telling us. In data and analytics as an external service, our aggregated people movement (O2 Motion) product was used in assisting the Government in assessing the efficacy of policy decisions. It was both a proud and humbling position to see our data being used so helpfully in the national time of crisis.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
There is no doubt that in our organisation, the debate has moved from whether and how data and analytics should drive the business, to how quickly can we have the next set of insights. Building on capabilities primarily built for the consumer-facing side of the organisation, a key expectation I have for 2021 is to significantly increase the use of data and analytics in the business customer side, which will introduce different business hypotheses and proposed actions that we will look to use data to validate.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Data for good has been a topic of discussion for both me and Telefónica for a number of years. Previously, due largely to press and public opinion on the balance of privacy against using data for good, my view has been that many organisations have shied away from potential opportunities. I would like to think that the events of 2020 will prove to be something of a watershed through society demanding that significant social need requires data to be used, and that the use will be safe and ethical. The answer must be for all organisations to recognise the societal pressure, and innovate safely and ethically with data, rather than shying away from doing so.
What has been your path to power?
After four years in accountancy, I decided to change 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, and dreaded, “ETL Big Bang”.
This ultimately took me to a role leading transformation, which included the creation of a central data analytics capability. That was when the data bug really got me!
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 HMG’s CTO, working on the UK 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. My current role is to create commercial opportunity through data, leading O2’s business division data strategy and partnership development.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
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.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
I look forward to the day when data in organisations is truly democratised, and the role of the data and analytics department is more about building self-serve capability than about providing the analysis themselves. I am intrigued by this because my view is that large organisations can fall into a dis-empowerment trap, where decisions are passed upwards because both the team members and the manager believe the senior knows more than the team.
In today’s world, nothing could be further from the truth. I see the role of the leader to support and empower their staff, including making sure that they have access to the data, so that decisions become more obvious, quicker to make, and made by a team inspired because they feel empowered. The leader is freed up to do more interesting work than having to check, correct and being seen to add value to the team’s outputs.
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?
A facet of the mobile industry is that every individual use of the service creates data, leading to billions of such data points being captured. Given the nature of the industry and the clear regulatory and licence requirements of an operator, both the individual company and the industry as a whole have a good understanding of what data can and can’t be collected and used.
The debate about the usefulness of analytics in driving corporate performance finished a long time ago – the debates now are about how to make the best of the data, about data quality and improving technical and human capability. The thirst for data and analytics now outweighs the capacity for the teams to deliver – moving the role of the senior data leader from persuading and building initial capability to enabling choices on where scarce analytics resource will be best utilised. Deliberately driving the outputs and outcomes from data and analytics to specific business objectives and their owners is the way to bring the wider business and analytics activity closer together.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
I think organisations have different cultures and what works for one may not work for others. The trick is to understand where the organisation is at, and what could work for it now, and what might work differently later. I’d suggest having a combination of both top-down sponsorship and the development of some tangible value-adding examples. Top-down visible support for the vision that the data must lead the decision will show intent. Some tangible examples of what the data is saying will show the practical reality.
Just get started, don’t look for perfection, there will be data issues such as quality and completeness at the start, but this doesn’t need to stop you being able to show an initial set of indicators or trends, which will pique people’s interest. If it looks like you are uncovering new information that might help people with their objectives, they have a very good reason to help you build out a data-first mindset.