How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Data is critical for us to integrate our health propositions and services, gain a deeper understanding of customer needs and provide a better quality of care to millions of customers. It is an exciting time to be a data professional in the health and well-being space as 2020 has hugely accelerated the adoption and acceptance of technology and data to transform mainstream health services delivery.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
I moved roles during the first lockdown, which was planned but not quite what I had imagined and, in April, I left the NHS and moved to AXA Health. Leaving the NHS amid a pandemic felt like unbelievably bad timing - plenty of technology organisations were desperate to help and the data-sharing opportunities were rapidly accelerating. But after two decades of working for the health service, I was looking forward to a new challenge.
AXA Health has been closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on our customers and business. The data team has seen an increase in the volume and complexity of requests from across the enterprise. Despite the lockdowns, we have continued to recruit to our data team during the year. We have navigated some changes in priorities, but we finished 2020 with a clear direction for 2021.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
I believe that during 2021 our data and analytics will focus on delivering strategic value and supporting our journey to digital delivery. We spent worthy time in 2020 understanding the business value drivers and what foundations were needed to accelerate how we do analytics to support these. Implementation of our plans will happen with some velocity in 2021, which is extremely exciting.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Keeping our customers healthy and receiving an exceptional service is how we use data for good. Data is crucial for us to monitor that our members are benefiting from the most clinically effective treatments from excellent clinical providers. We will continue to use data in traditional ways to check that we treat our customers fairly. Still, we will also be looking to leverage the data that we can harness from digital services to further understanding how we can support people to live healthy lives.
What has been your path to power?
After finishing my degree, I started a PhD in Nuclear Physics, but quit after less than a year, unconvinced that a doctorate would be the best thing for my career. I began my work life as an analyst with a bank. After a couple of analyst roles, I decided that I still wanted to study and started a part-time Masters in Statistical Applications at the University of Westminster. This qualification helped me get a job as a statistician in the NHS, where I specialised in fraud analytics. I started managing analyst teams and, after a few years, I was head of the information services and risk management function.
At the NHS, I spent two years as head of operations, where I was working closely with our strategic partner who was delivering most of our administrative and technology activities. This role required collaborating with partners, establishing commercial products using data, digitising services, managing numerous stakeholders and running large-scale operations.
When I left the NHS in April 2020, I was the chief insight officer and accountable for everything data, from data governance to data science, including delivering insight and data as a service to the NHS and public. As a direct report to the CEO, I was part of the senior team running the organisation and creating the strategy.
I am now with AXA Health as the head of data strategy, and I am also the interim head of advanced analytics and data science. Despite moving to a new industry, I have found the data and analytics challenges remarkably familiar.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
It was a privilege to lead the transformation of the data and insight services in the NHS, which has highlighted significant opportunities for improvements in health delivery and efficiencies. My team helped develop and regularly publish a patient safety metric for polypharmacy which won the 2019 Health Service Journal Patient Safety Award and has reduced risky prescribing for tens of thousands of vulnerable patients.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
Transformation of AXA Health’s data and analytics activities is top of my list, which will involve supporting colleagues to feel more confident about data value.
I will continue to develop my skills and deepen my understanding of strategy development and digital and data trends. I have a mentor who I catch up with at least once a month, and I am also a mentor for the Reed Women in Technology Programme.
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?
I see data and analytics as critical enablers of business strategy. When the data strategy is shaped and owned by all the executive team, there is much greater success with the business alignment. When it comes to how data and analytics are delivered within the business, there is an argument for ensuring that business users can access relevant data and reports to build a robust data culture and good data governance.
The optimal operating model for data within an organisation comes up in conversation with other data leaders. The broad consensus in these conversations points to having a central data team for central co-ordination enterprise initiatives and innovation; with analytical resources allocated to business units. This approach keeps and develops subject matter expertise in the right place and allows for central co-ordination and a sense of professional belonging and development for the data professionals.
Like all industries, insurance sees its disrupters and has to think about how it can use technology and data to be more competitive. The uptake of the internet of things and sensors has vast potential for how we calculate premiums and prevent costly claims.
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 have used regular informal sessions to share the findings from analytics projects and ask colleagues who have benefitted from an analytics project to share the benefits. The discussions sparked from sharing findings and benefits often create broader ideas about innovating or improving.
Democratising data by making business information tools available across the organisation and supporting end-users with great metadata and training on using the tools effectively will propel data culture. I make sure that whenever I talk about data, it is linked to customer benefits and strategic success.