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Lisa Allen, head of data and analytical services, Ordnance Survey

Lisa Allen, head of data and analytical services, Ordnance Survey

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

 

The vision of Ordnance Survey (OS) vision is to be recognised as a world leader in geo-spatial services, creating location insight for positive impact. We want to harness the true power of location data, helping people, customers and communities to thrive. This means that data and analytics are absolutely key to achieving our vision, from ensuring we provide the most trusted location data for others to build upon to the analytics we do on this data, working with others to gain insight, make decisions or take action.

 

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

 

You can say that again! We were lucky and adjusted very quickly to home working. It all went very smoothly. But it did change our work.

 

This year saw the public become very aware of the importance of data. It has also shown the absolute importance of location data especially. We have worked with other government departments to help respond to questions the pandemic has raised. For example, where are the outbreaks of Covid-19, where are the supermarkets, where can I access my local green space, park or public garden?

 

This data has fed into analysis and helped with the response. We have learnt a lot from this experience. It has helped us to understand further how customers are using our data and where we need to improve the formats, quality or how we serve the data.

 

With our surveyors not allowed out in the first lockdown, we diverted them on to other work. With their help, we were able to accelerate scheduled improvements to our data. All in all, this year has resulted in us doing more than we could have done normally.

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

 

We want to grow our data capability. We are seeing demand for areas that you would expect, for example in data science, but we are also seeing demand in other areas, like data standards. To grow our capability, we are looking at external recruitment or up-skilling.

 

One important aspect is around diversity and inclusion. Recent recruitment campaigns have shown we need to do more to attract diverse candidates. This is a perfect opportunity to do this while we are growing our capability.

 

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

 

Being a government-owned company, data for good is instinctively what we think of. Our location data is supplied to the government of Great Britain and, hence, underpins many decisions impacting on society.

 

Ethical use of data location data is also important to us. The Benchmark Initiative was created by Omidyar Network and Ordnance Survey to increase awareness of the many potential risks of using location data, to identify ethical principles and to promote good practice.

 

We believe there is a pressing need for agreed international guidelines on responsible use of location data to help guide users to good practice. Benchmark has joined with the American Geographical Society’s EthicalGeo program to support collaboration on a new global initiative, “The Locus Charter,” to guide the responsible use of location data. There is a national conversation about location data ethics this year, so I’d encourage you to get involved.

What has been your path to power?

 

Today, I manage teams of experts in location data covering everything from ensuring our data meets the changing demands of our customers, data governance and standards to data science and analytics. But I trained as an environmental scientist.

 

My first job was as an aquatic biologist! My first step into data was when I managed a team investigating environmental crime. This involved sharing data with the police. When I realised the data quality wasn’t as expected, I joined the head office data team to fix it. That was it, I was hooked into the data profession.

 

I’ve worked in many roles across government on data disciplines, including developing data strategies and frameworks to implement data governance across organisations. I am always challenging my teams to make data fun, to engage the entire organisation and to focus on the outcomes data enables.

 

I’ve worked on open data challenges, implemented GDPR and made data easier to find, all collaborating across organisations. Over the years, I’ve seen many of the same data challenges across organisations, and that’s why I am a committee member of Data Management UK, known to many as DAMA UK. We help nurture a community of data professionals, sharing best practice and tackling common issues.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I’ve had many proud moments in my career, but I must say being included in the DataIQ 100 for two years running is my proudest to date. I have been so lucky in my career to work with so many fantastic data professionals on some amazingly interesting data projects, all to unlock the power of data and deliver better outcomes for society. I consider myself so lucky that I work in a profession which is also my passion.

 

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

 

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to all teams, but especially to data teams. Algorithms can amplify bias, so it is really important that data teams are diverse and represent the communities we serve. It is not only important from a business perspective, but an ethical one, too.

 

It struck me recently on recent recruitment campaigns that the applications we received were not as diverse as I would have liked. My goal is to put in place measures to ensure we can attract more diverse talent.

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?

 

We are a data business. So, unlike most organisations, everyone talks about data. That means that within our own business we are closely aligned. We are actively engaged in communities in both government and industry, participating in chief data officer and data science and analytical communities.

We also participate internationally, including on data standards and leading on frameworks for geospatial information. By participating in these communities, we bring back the learning into our own business and bring the two closer together and really capitalise on that learning.

We have a strong track record of using advances in data analytics, as well as availability of new types of data, to improve the efficiency of our operation. We have found, generally at a basic level, that understanding data requirements and ensuring the right data is collected is the foundation for more advanced capabilities in data science and analytics.

In the last 10 years, OS has been able to reduce the cost of production activity by 40%. We’ve done this through advances in geo-spatial data capture and data processing, greater use of automation in data processing, and cloud-based data management. The benefits of these advances in the acquisition and processing of geo-spatial data are passed on to OS customers.

 

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

 

Having an excellent data culture and data-first mindset is a Utopian vision for many of us. Building this up takes time. I think it comes down to many things and one size doesn’t fit all.

 

I think you need to use great storytelling, linking data to your business outcomes and how things will be better for your customers or how you can become more efficient. I like to engage people’s imaginations about the possibilities. Or if your issues are more immediate, it’s about the burning platforms and the need for action. It’s also about training and capabilities.

 

To be a data literate organisation, everyone needs fundamental basic data skills and understanding.

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