How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
People and purpose are very important to us. In the past year, we have successfully developed and launched several major initiatives, including a data academy and a pioneering data ethics advisory board. The academy aims to get under-represented groups into data science. The data ethics advisory board is the first of its kind to combine HR, legal, academic, consultancy and data science experts. Its goal is to provide Profusion and the wider business community with advice and guidance on how to tackle complex ethical issues related to the application of data science techniques such as AI. Advice from the board will be shared with the data community with the aim of showcasing how rights and fairness can be built into the future of data science. Members include leaders from HSBC, Rolls Royce, the London Stock Exchange and The Co-operative.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
2020 upended most of the plans we had we had made at the beginning of the year. However, we are lucky that the nature of the crisis meant that data science and analytics became even more important to organisations. Understanding how consumer behaviour changed and how organisations could best respond became a priority for many clients.
Companies rapidly came to understand that, in a highly unpredictable world, understanding data was fundamental to their survival and perhaps the data foundations they had in place weren’t quite as strong as they would like. As a result, we had to revisit and modify the campaigns and projects we had initiated last year for our clients and won work with a number of organisations, including the UK government.
Of course, mass, long-term remote working threw up challenges for everyone. One of the key parts of Profusion is the culture of collaboration. Our team does its best work not just because it is highly-skilled, but because it likes socialising and working together. We didn’t want the natural hierarchy or siloed working that would creep in remotely to happen to and impact our culture. We responded by running a lot of virtual events and developing a data-driven networking project called coffee roulette. We created an algorithm that would match people from different teams for an informal virtual coffee automatically scheduled in their diaries.
A survey of its impact revealed a huge boost in moral and feelings of engagement, in addition to improving people’s knowledge of other roles in the organisation and, therefore, ability to do their work. It was particularly helpful for the new hires we made this year who had little to no time in the office. As we headed for the second lockdown, a number of organisations got in touch and started using it, too.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
This year has reaffirmed our belief that data can be a powerful tool in overcoming the biggest challenges. It has also given us confidence that, even in the most trying circumstances, our team and commercial offering can survive and thrive. As well as growing and expanding our team it has put an even greater priority on growing our data academy work.
It is quite clear that data literacy is still far too low across the population and the need to educate and empower every individual in an organisation with a basic understanding of data, its potential and pitfalls, is critical as organisations look to drive ROI from data. We will be ramping up our training programmes to businesses for C-suite to HR teams to grads and apprentices and, as always, using this support to gift to charities and young people the same data literacy education.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Data for good is a fundamental part of our business. Not only is the work that we undertake guided by moral and ethical principles, we also have created a foundation, Profusion Cares, which is dedicated to charitable initiatives that uses data to help people. The chaos of 2020 actually encouraged us to expand these aspects of our work with the formation of the data ethics advisory board and also the expansion of Profusion Cares. Work this year includes partnering with local schools in London to provide teachers and students with advice and information on how to start a career in data science and pro bono projects with Fareshare and End Youth Homelessness.
In 2021, we hope to accelerate our expansion of Profusion Cares further with multiple partnerships with schools and charities. We’re a firm believer that diversity is a critical part of data science, which is why, especially with the economic challenges facing young people, we’re going to double down on growing our data academy and providing schools with the educational tools they need to encourage a broader range of young people into data-driven careers.
What has been your path to power?
I began my career at Deloitte after graduating from the University of York. After that, I landed a dream job helping to deliver the London 2012 Olympics. Over a four year period, I was part of the team who recruited and managed the 200,000 workforce needed to make the Games happen.
After the Games, I set up the Mayor of London’s Team London initiative. This involved the mobilisation of 1 million volunteers and 2,000-plus schools, backed by 1,800 charities and 100-plus businesses. It all culminated with London being named European volunteering capital.
I moved on to become COO of The Careers and Enterprise Company, helping it to grow from a £6 million to £30 million-a-year operation. This further sparked my interest in tech and data. I spearheaded the development of a digital user-driven product to support school career assessments, planning and delivery. The Compass tool was adopted by 3,000-plus schools in only nine months.
From there, I became CEO of Profusion. Throughout my working life, volunteering has been key to helping me progress, enabling me to support causes about which I’m passionate and develop a broader range of skills to get to the next stage of my career.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Trite as it sounds, it is 2020. When I took on the role at Profusion, I was asked to turn potential into real growth in the business. This was a good, but sizeable challenge. No sooner had I started than I was trying to do this from my kitchen table with no human contact for 12 weeks in a global pandemic which was leading to a global recession.
As a leader, you feel very responsible for everyone in the business - their mortgage payments, their wellbeing, while being realistic and reassuring at the same time. I’m very proud of what we as a team have achieved this year. We are rapidly growing as a business, have shown innovation to keep the culture and the team together, and supported our clients through a really challenging period.
Importantly, I’m proud we have not lost our purpose as a business and despite the challenges we faced as a business have continued to grow our foundation, launch our ethics work and launch our data academy this year. I’m lucky to work with a brilliant team and look forward to working with them in 2021 to make more impact for both our clients and for society.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
Fundamentally, my career has been and continues to be about solving problems for people. I am constantly enthused by the power of data in businesses, and equally by what data and our industry can do to support society. Profusion and I personally really want to make an impact on diversity in our industry as it is so crucial to the delivery of our work. We want to enable more people from diverse backgrounds into the profession and help them progress through the profession. We also want to be exemplary as an SME to demonstrate to other organisations that, large or small, you can make a significant positive impact for the next generation and for society - you don’t have to be a FTSE 100 company to do so.
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?
Every part of Profusion is impacted by data. We essentially both talk the talk and walk the walk. When we confidently advise our clients that data science can be better used to reveal profound insights about their business, it is because we’ve had first-hand experience. We monitor and measure every aspect of our operation to ensure it’s as efficient as possible.
Many team members are scientists by training, which has instilled a love of experimentation into our culture. We like to see how new technology can change how we work and operate. For example, when IoT was a big thing, many of our team volunteered to have Fitbits and other smart devices monitor how they lived and worked to see how we could improve their day-to-day to make them happier and more productive.
If 2020 has taught businesses anything, it is that data and analytics is not a “nice-to-have” - they are a critical requirement. If a company hopes to be competitive, it needs to use data to understand its customers and itself. With technology and skills improving rapidly, the cost of data science is coming down while its effectiveness is growing. This economic reality pretty much makes it a no-brainer for organisations to use.
Where we will see a divergence is in how organisations incorporate and leverage data expertise. The best will avoid siloing skills and knowledge and instead make members of every department data-savvy. Those with the most progressive attitude will give their data team a voice at the top table and also ensure that their board or senior leadership is itself data trained.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
This is something which Profusion has seen as a real barrier to ROI in organisations. Our data academy not only supports the next generation, it aims to support data literacy in organisations so they can be truly data-led, and not just organisations that have a data team or a bit of data tech. The fundamental principles here are education and empowerment. You cannot have a data culture in an organisation without providing an education programme from C-suite down to grads and apprentices. It is the employability skill of the 21st Century that is too often forgotten.
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a data-first organisation. For some, it will make sense to take a top-down approach of training their leaders and managers in the basics of data. For others, it’ll involve building-out expertise in relevant departments and then seeking to impart this knowledge across the company.
Our view is that creating a data-first mindset requires moving data from the abstract to the practical. This means ensuring every member of the team has at least a basic working understanding of data, then specialising team members to use different data skill levels to make their working day more effective, for example, HR members who can use analytics to gain insights into the health and productivity of their colleagues.
If people see for themselves how being data literate can improve how they work and their skills, they will be quicker to embrace it. This is true for the graduate trainee right up to the CEO and it shouldn’t stop with the first education programme, it has to be a constant in the organisation.