How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
The Open University”s vision and purpose revolve around enabling students to succeed and achieve their life ambitions. Our data and analytics are focused on enabling The OU to understand our students and our processes so that we can optimise how we do this. To this end we are on a roadmap that sees The OU investing in end-to-end data capability and driving real use cases in parallel.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
For The OU, like everywhere else, 2020 was an unusual and remarkable year. As an organisation, we deal with the remote nature of our students on a daily basis and 2020 served to emphasise both how well we do this and the challenges that some of our students face every day.
Learning demand has increased dramatically and, as a result, we’ve had to pivot the way we work and find ways to support The OU operationally to understand the impact the pandemic has had on our student base. All of this while rapidly moving the whole team to a remote working basis, which has had some challenges, but on the whole has not impacted productivity and will clearly change our working model for the better, for ever.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
2021 looks like being a really promising year for data at The OU. The appetite for data and data products is significant, and the engagement in the capabilities that we are developing is growing all the time. We expect to see some real challenges in managing the demand for what we can do, but we are looking forward to engaging with more and more areas of The OU to showcase the power of data.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
The OU has a strong data for good ethos because of the inherent social mission of the university. In fact, you could argue that everything we do is in support of students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to achieve in higher education. In addition to this, there’s a significant focus on how we can use data to widen access and participation across a number of under-represented sections of the community and, as a data team, we are core to the work The OU is doing here.
What has been your path to power?
Originally qualifying as an accountant on the Anglian Water Graduate scheme, I moved first into the telecoms industry with WorldCom, then onto banking with Santander UK, and recently into higher education at The Open University.
An analyst at heart, my journey into data started when I took a key role in the data integration and migration processes that moved the data from Abbey, Alliance and Leicester, and Bradford and Bingley into Santander’s core platform. Data has been my home ever since. After leading a number of data teams, I become CDO at Santander UK where I was asked to create a new data services function consolidating all of the key data capabilities of the bank and developing the data strategy for the future.
In 2019, I found myself in the right place at the right time to take a big step towards a career in an industry that has always been close to my heart by becoming the first CDO at The Open University.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
I’m really proud to be able to say that I was there at the start of the data journey at Santander UK, creating the data teams that took the bank through major transformations in the years following the big acquisitions, and establishing a culture and a team ethic that was really well respected across the bank. I have no regrets at all and I am loving leading a similar challenge at The OU, but it was really hard to leave some of the great people behind.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
I feel passionately that a person’s data really belongs to them and that across our industry, not just in any given sector, we have a great opportunity with the technology and data capability now available to empower individuals to own and maintain their own data. If they do, they will get a better service from us. Imagine controlling your own record of learning, having it available to you at the touch of a button, and empowering organisations you trust to use it to provide services and learning opportunities back to you…
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?
Data and analytics are embedded into many processes across The OU and are vital to many of the things we do. Although the maturity of practices still needs to develop to make them more efficient and more effective, the alignment of purpose is clear and the opportunity to drive benefit to our students from this alignment is even clearer. It is this alignment that brings the two closer together.
Right now, the education sector is waking up to the realisation that data can bring great advantages, but also has great risks if it is misused. It is clear that this will be a growing area in the future.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
My view on the development of a data culture is that you need to recognise the importance of different techniques and different approaches for different levels and different types of people. It’s vital to have top-down buy-in and being seen to have senior sponsorship is a major enabler.
At the same time, it is vital to have real-life examples that resonate with people at all levels. An early win that demonstrates the benefits from data is a must. Finally, it’s vital to talk to people on their terms. Don’t talk data - do talk business/organisation outcomes. You don’t need a separate data strategy, you need a roadmap that uses data to achieve your organisation’s strategy.