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Hywel Benbow, vice president - global data and analytics, GEMS Education

Hywel Benbow, vice president - global data and analytics, GEMS Education

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

 

There’s a growing demand to harness data and analytics across the organisation. Our analytics strategy is focused on supporting this demand by providing each department with robust, accurate and insightful analytics, to better understand: our customers, our employees or how best we can support our learners to achieve beyond their potential. As an organisation, we aim to put a quality education within reach of every child. The team support this vision by using analytics in multiple areas of the business to assist our colleagues as they support each learner to ensure they reach and surpass their capabilities.

 

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

 

Despite the many challenges 2020 brought, it has helped push the data agenda, not just internally but across the globe.

 

Within analytics, I think there’s always a split between planned and unplanned activities. It’s a case of knowing things will come up and being ready to adapt. Our core analytics strategy has remained the same, work on the foundations and build our capabilities and analytics in core areas first, while taking opportunities in other areas as they materialise. Those opportunities can be a mix of planned and unplanned. The unknowns of 2020 meant we had to react quickly, think about new datasets, sideline obsolete ones, answer different questions, ignore certain trends and adapt to the changing environment around us.

 

A good data team needs to be agile, and no more so was that evident in 2020, having a multi-talented team allowed us to adapt and meet the changing business needs while continuing to work on our overarching aim: to deliver actionable insights across the organisation. The unplanned activities were frequent but still fitted under that overarching aim. However, 2020 did mean we had to juggle a few more unknowns and think a little further outside the box than a normal year.

 

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

 

The data culture within the organisation has been growing steadily, and following on from 2020, where there was increased demand for analytics, I’m expecting further developments in our data literacy levels which will inevitably improve our data culture and maturity. Alongside this, we’ll be looking to wring as much value from our data as we can, accelerating the use of AI and ML where possible to unearth more insights, and look to democratise more data and analytics tools within the organisation.

 

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

 

All students deserve a quality education that allows them to maximise their potential and succeed on their chosen path. One of the benefits of working in the education sector means that, alongside the commercial analytics that most companies do, we also use data to improve the educational outcomes of our learners. Data is such a powerful tool to support teachers and students in highlighting strengths, areas of need and to make connections that lead to insights and, specifically, improvements in teaching and learning.

 

It’s been an absolute pleasure working with some outstanding educators who have helped me understand the many different anomalies that the sector has and to use their knowledge and experience, alongside my background to develop tools that help educators and students to improve and succeed.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

Despite not directly looking for data roles at the start of my career, I have always worked in analytics and research. Having quite an inquisitive mind, I’ve always enjoyed digging into things to find answers, so data and analytics was a natural draw, as the roles have provided me with the problem solving aspect that I enjoy.

 

I’ve always relished helping people understand their business or role better through the use of data, promoting and showcasing the power of data and championing of use of analytics.

 

I’m an analyst at heart and a good chunk of my career has been spent working in the public sector and the civil service, utilising my analytical skills alongside, project management, strategy, and policy work across a varying range of areas. Analytics offers the opportunity to work across different sectors which is a great benefit.

 

In 2017, I moved to GEMS Education, where I currently lead the global analytics function, working with our corporate departments and a wide range of schools to unlock their data and deliver insights into a vast array of different areas from sales, HR, finance to student and school performance.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

It’s not been one achievement per se, but rather a number of small successes that together have seen people starting to embrace data and a data culture develop.

 

Seeing the engagement in analytics grow and people embracing data has been in part down to the focus on good data foundations, regular communications on the importance and value of data and the promotion of data stories and insights. Together these successes are a great achievement and it’s always a joy to see people start to love data.

 

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

 

It’s a wide scope but embedding analytics across the organisation is an area I have a continued focus on. Making data matter, developing our data culture, and becoming more data-driven is a personal goal and will bring considerable benefits to the organisation through each stage of the development. There are many different areas we’re focusing on to bring this about, and as we develop the organisation’s data maturity, our analytics maturity will follow suit. Democratising our data and analytics forms one key element which will enable a greater number of colleagues to perform their own analysis, meaning quicker insights and decisions.

 

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?

 

There has been a growing demand to harness data and analytics across the business over the last couple of years, this has inevitably seen the alignment grow closer. Our analytics strategy is focused on three areas which are designed to provide maximum value and deliver insights that have an impact on the core business areas. With the foundations in place, we have been better able to answer those business questions which previously we were unable to, and, through growing the relationship with the business, we’ve been better able to understand other challenges that each area faces and establish more of a partnership with departments.

 

At an industry level, there is a growing appetite for analytics, with the education sector playing catch-up to other industries. At GEMS Education we’re investing in analytics on both the business and education side to enhance our product and customer experience and to provide a better learning experience for our students.

 

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

 

It’s not a quick process and requires the building of strong relationships with stakeholders and both the delivery of high-quality analytics and the communication of insights to ensure there is buy-in and a change in mindset.

 

Many businesses don’t fully understand the complexities in delivering insights and becoming data-driven, so communicating the challenges involved and then the potential value that can be accessed and delivered through analytics helps the wider organisation build their understanding and increase their data literacy levels which are key to developing a data culture.

 

A lot of focus needs to be on education and collaboration, you need the analytics team and the departments they work with to become partners, as when they work together the strengths of analytics team are enhanced with the contextual knowledge gained from the business – as a result the outcome of any data product or service is going to be far better.

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