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Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor - enterprise and business relations, University of Cambridge, and co-founder, Anmut

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor - enterprise and business relations, University of Cambridge, and co-founder, Anmut

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

 

I’m involved in many different organisations, all of which use data in different ways. But a common theme is that they are all starting to recognise data should be treated as an asset in its own right. That’s why we set up Anmut in the first place - to create an organisation that focuses on developing practical approaches to valuing data. As Lord Kelvin said: “When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it…[otherwise] your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in thought advanced to the stage of science.”

 

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 has been a rollercoaster of a year. Life at the University of Cambridge has been complex. I started the year focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship, but soon became embroiled in Covid-19. We set up a PPE hub in a matter of days to get PPE to our local hospital. We created a Covid-19 testing centre in a matter of weeks. I lead the University recovery planning process, developing a programme of 13 projects that we plan to implement on the back of Covid-19.

 

And all the while we were growing Anmut. It’s been a spectacular year for the business, with some fascinating projects and some great new clients. I don’t want to repeat 2020, but I’ve learnt a lot, seen the best in many people and been amazed at how quickly organisations and individuals have responded to such a devastating global pandemic.

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

 

I think 2021 will be a good year for data. It is clear that organisations need better data leadership. It is clear that organisations are incredibly dependent on data and, when it is not well managed, when it is not curated, it is impossible to make the right decisions quickly. I find it really exciting to see a small, but growing group of data leaders take a strategic approach to data. Recognising it as the asset it really is for organisations large and small.

 

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

 

Rather than data for good, I like to think about data for purpose. Clearly, I’d hope the purpose was good, but the crucial issue is to understand how you want to use your data and to what end? Take, for example, Covid-19 and the vaccine rollout - data on who has had the vaccine, who hasn’t, who needs it next, how we align supply and demand, are all central to ensuring an efficient and effective rollout. We need to be clear about the purpose - what it is we are trying to achieve - and then the role that data plays in enabling delivery of this. My focus for 2021 will be helping people understand data for purpose and how in doing so they can deliver good.

What has been your path to power?

 

I’ve spent most of my life on the boundary between University and business. I trained originally in manufacturing engineering at Nottingham University. During my PhD, I explored how leaders achieve goal congruence, generating alignment across the organisation they lead. This sparked my early interest in key performance indicators. In particular, I was interested in how you identify and design KPIs that best match the organisation’s strategy.

 

I’ve spent time at Cambridge University, Cranfield School of Management and London Business School, always working closely with business partners to try and solve practical problems that organisations face. Currently, I am the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge and a co-founder of Anmut. As Pro-Vice-Chancellor, I am responsible across the University for innovation, commercialisation, spin-outs, start-ups and links with business.

 

At Anmut, we are focusing on data valuation - helping organisations quantify the value of their data and realise that value in the most effective and efficient ways. Data and the insights it can deliver is a theme that has run throughout my professional life.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I take pride in lots of small achievements. There’s not one thing I would flag and say, that’s it. Instead, I am proud of jobs well done. That can be helping a student, seeing a new book published, giving a good speech, delivering a good class or just helping a client. A piece of career advice I’d give anyone is, don’t just strive for one big thing. Take pleasure from lots of small achievements on the way. It’s the small achievements that give you the motivation to keep going.

 

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

 

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To contribute to society at scale, however, requires partnership. It requires us to work with leading organisations to ensure the ideas and insights developed by friends and colleagues across the University have an impact in the world. And so a key mission for me is to encourage and enable fruitful and productive partnerships between business and academia. I’ve spent my life building partnerships between different groups of people and I’m a great believer in their strength and value.

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?

 

Clearly good data is a pre-requisite to good analytics. That old adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” is as valid today as it ever was, although arguably today it is on steroids. There’s fascinating work going on looking at biases in artificial intelligence and machine learning, with the underlying biases in data influencing the models that are developed and the results they deliver. Addressing these issues - data quality, data biases and subsequent analytics - are common issues that face all organisations and need serious attention.

 

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

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." It’s the same with organisations and data. Show them the value in terms they understand and make it easy to manage it alongside all the other business assets. Then the people respond and change the culture themselves.

 

For decades we’ve tried to change cultures, but it’s taken a systemic change - Covid-19 - to accelerate things. We need a systemic approach with data too.

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