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Nirali Patel, director of data and analytics, Openreach

Nirali Patel, director of data and analytics, Openreach

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

 

At Openreach, we’re driving the UK’s digital revolution. Our strategy is simple - we aim to provide better service, broader coverage and faster speeds. One of the ways we’ll do this is by transforming our ways of working so that decision-making is fast, agile and driven by insight derived from hard data.

 

Automation and predictive analytics are two examples, guiding the plans for our fibre build across the UK and helping manage our 20,000 engineers in the best and safest way by providing the right information at the right time to ensure brilliant services are delivered to our customers.

 

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

 

Within the health insurance arena, the impact of the pandemic meant hospitals were called in by the NHS overnight and suddenly our services had to change. Through innovative analytics of data at speed, we were able to guide the business to identify which alternative services were also viable, particularly noting which ones could be used by our members with close monitoring to ensure that their health needs were met.

 

Our planned activities for wider data transformation continued and this change in our environment helped to accelerate some of that culture change, as we all needed to think differently. Without the agility and quick analytics that we managed to achieve, our organisation would not have been able to continue to serve its customers as effectively.

 

2020 was a year in which I chose to move industries from one key worker sector to another - healthcare to telecoms. Within this industry, we’ve seen an explosion in the demand for faster speeds and broader coverage as people change the way they work and live. We’ve had to develop some sophisticated models to help our engineers to meet this demand, taking into account skills, regions and the ever-changing tier systems across the UK.

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

 

I look forward to seeing a real step-change for data and analytics in Openreach, expanding our migration to cloud technologies, with business-wide self-serve being deployed through strong data foundations that put the customer at the heart of our business. The introduction of more data assets that help our organisation work smarter, more effectively and, most importantly, where the whole business embraces the data transformation journey for the benefit of our customers. Through this ambitious step-change in embedding a data-driven culture, we will develop a strong strategy that will drive our business forward for the years to come.

 

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

 

Data for good is part of both agendas in 2021. I want to use data to drive better customer service and better customer experience, and this will be seen through appropriate use of automation technologies, knowing more about our customers and, in an holistic manner, through the use of behavioral analysis and personas, leading to differentiated interactions.

 

Personally, I do and will continue to advocate the use of data for the bettering of humanity through being part of Boards that direct the wider data agenda globally and through peer-to-peer learning to share this ethical way of thinking.

What has been your path to power?

 

My career is my passion, so I’ve taken opportunities as they presented themselves or have created them to help achieve ambitions. I truly want to share my passion for data and analytics to help organisations better serve their customers through innovation and optimisation.

 

I didn’t start out with the goal of becoming a data leader when I left university, I fell into this arena in the health sector by pure chance and through each chapter I’ve learnt new ideas, ways of working and what not to do. These learnings have taken me through different stages and experiences and I’ve been lucky to have worked in nearly all fields of data, from being a statistician to a data management analyst to a governance lead to business intelligence. I’ve embraced every opportunity to learn along the way.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Being recognised nationally and internationally for my contribution as a thought leader in data, in the same year, because I’m honoured that I’m able to share my experiences and learnings with the data community. I’ve always been very collaborative in moving the data agenda forward outside of my own organisations and to see that people value this is heart-warming.

 

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

 

My purpose that I am pursuing for the benefit of my customers is to provide our engineers with the most relevant information that empowers them to complete their jobs successfully the first time, every time. This means mining the information that has been collated over the decades within our own business and from other sources, then interpreting it, so that the right narrative can be curated for each job. This is putting the insight right into the hands of our frontline.

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?

 

Our organisation is one that is very different to many others. We build and manage the majority of the UK network (phoneline and broadband), hence to ensure that we do this correctly and efficiently, we are completely reliant on data and analytics. While Openreach may not be recognised as a data organisation, without the insight that data provides us with, it would have been very difficult to support the UK during this pandemic.

 

If we think about the change that happened, where majority of the population had to work from home, children were learning virtually, alongside supporting the NHS to build new hospitals and doctors to provide virtual appointments suddenly the UK network was put under pressure, all over an infrastructure that spans back over 100 years. The business and data and analytics are closely aligned, so it is now my role to bring Openreach closer to best practices that are seen in industry and to lead the way forward.

 

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

 

Pre-2020, I would have said that this can’t happen overnight and it needs to be curated through finding those ambassadors in your business who are data literate and are able to translate data to achieve amazing business outcomes. Building communities to create that vibe is also a great help because together the change to a data-first mindset happens while you’re providing valuable assets to the business.

 

Due to this pandemic, many organisations have had to turn to data and analytics to help them survive these times through using it to re-direct their business, to optimise their operations, etc. I’m definitely not saying the way to develop a data culture is to have a pandemic! But it has helped to accelerate the adoption of such a culture.

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