How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
We’re a machine learning platform and AI company that extracts signal from complex data and so it’s no surprise that we analyse every bit of data we can to measure our efficacy and progress. We use a semi-quarter cadence on most operational measures, and monthly for financials.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
Like everyone else, we had to rethink the way we worked - how we worked internally, worked with our clients, and how we reached out to new prospects.
As a business focused on delivering human-like understanding of customers, unsurprisingly we started by trying to preserve the informality of our day-to-day interactions – how to replicate Friday afternoon drinks or a "pat on the back" in a world without much direct contact. We’ve found that while Zoom et al are great tools, it’s the effort people put in to using them in a way that reflects the familiarity of working face-to-face that has really made a difference.
Our clients across the world were both flexible and innovative in finding ways to help us keep the quality of our engagements high.
We made the best we could of virtual forums where we felt they were sufficiently focused, but we found that historic investments in building personal relationships and networks really paid dividends this year - reinforcing the old mantras (and probably adding a renewed determination to do better in our New Year resolutions!).
Over the year, I’d say that individual effectiveness has not fallen at all, but that collaborative productivity has been harder to sustain for obvious reasons.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
It is our business and so I expect it to remain important…
At a wider level, I think that the past year has raised awareness of the collection of data in consumers’ day-to-day lives, and also their expectations regarding the intelligence with which it should be used.
I think consent (more specifically graduated consent) will be a big topic in 2021, as will data-driven personalisation as a source of improved consumer experience - and privacy.
2020 was the year that it became increasingly obvious that old-school methodologies and unintelligent use of data just won’t cut it anymore. I expect 2021 will be the year when consumers demand that companies know them as individuals, not just customers.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
We are working in partnership with key data science leaders and healthcare researchers connected to Bristol University, Nottingham N-Labs, Imperial College NHS Trust and the Turing Institute, together with telcos and retailers, to bring historically siloed datasets closer together in order to harness their power (with consumer consent) to do societal good.
Behaviour trends that can be interpreted to generate pre-emptive indicators for the individual, and collective insight to further health research, are at the core of the programme.
We see real possibilities to support the objectives of health research projects simply by gathering together the lifestyle, lifestate and lifestage data that is already being collected and used in so many businesses already. Over time, I hope that the consumer will increasingly see this way of using their data as something they expect to happen, rather than a novel progression.
What has been your path to power?
That’s not a destination that I recognise. However, after working at Grand Met and Colgate-Palmolive in FMCG marketing roles, I switched to retail at Boots, where I set up and ran the Boots Advantage Card before heading up various divisions within the group. At a time when we still thought it grammatically illogical to juxtapose the words "big" and "data", this became a data scheme of epic proportions (and which unleashed business value of hundreds of millions of pounds).
Following roles in various retailers, private equity ventures and consultancy, I moved to Telefónica to set up and its data monetisation business and ran Telefónica Dynamic Insights, a global business leveraging the richness of telco data with a focus on aggregated and anonymised location and movement insights and consent-triggered financial services products.
From there, I joined my current company, Intent HQ, where we aim to provide our clients with the deepest human understanding of a customer from data, but in a form that is actionable and valuable, and privacy-safe. (Which it turns out, is as much a platform thing as it is a vectorisation and embeddings thing.)
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
A few years ago, I set up a joint venture for Telefónica with China Unicom and JD.com (one of the "big five" private Chinese businesses alongside the likes of Baidu and Alibaba) which was both great fun and challenging in equal measure.
Something clicked, because the business went from strength to strength, and after having to resign as a director of the Chinese business when I left Telefónica for Intent HQ, I stayed engaged and advised on its listing on the Beijing Equity Exchange.
But it’s not actually the establishment of the business (or its success) that makes me proud, as much as the way our respective teams worked through some distinctively different working cultures to create something of real value. And, more specifically, the way in which the relationships we built helped us through the darkest of moments (and there were a few) and continue through to this day.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
We want to establish the concept of “mass relevance”. The delivery of personalised engagements across large customer datasets fuelled by a level of human-like understanding of each individual - and to do this in a way that is fully protective of their personal privacy and goes way beyond regulatory compliance.
While this is my primary day-to-day focus, I’d love to play some small part in promoting the concept of data as being a force for societal good. It’s often presented as a conditional-verb disaster (admittedly fuelled by some high-profile grist to the mill), but it could and should be seen as something from which positives can come, too.
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?
From an Intent HQ perspective, given the nature of our business, the two are inextricably linked.
I think that at an industry level the same is generally true with respect to the traditional views of data and analytics. It gets a little harder when the data sources are the incidental exhaust of the business’s operations - data that was never historically imagined to be valuable and often produced in a way that isn’t easy to harvest.
The breakthrough may come in the recognition that an inability to see how data sources could create value today should not preclude that possibility in the future. And, therefore, designing data generation/collection capabilities that keep open options for tomorrow may be one of the smartest incremental investments a company can make.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
Make it as easy as possible to interrogate data with intuitive tools that democratise data across the business - don’t fear losing control of data access.
Make forensic explainability a key feature of your toolset. Create nice visualisations for the CEO.