How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
The Royal Mint’s vision is to be Britain’s most trusted and authentic organisation. The vision of the data team is to unify and use our data to get closer to our customers to gain their trust. There is strong alignment between visions. We have structured the data team to achieve this vision of getting closer to our customers to gain trust. There is a customer insight function to determine consumers’ attitudes and motivations, a market insight function to assess the market movements and its implications on the consumer, a predictive modelling function to predict the future behaviour of consumers and a strategic insights function to use data to suggest new consumer propositions.
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 was a year where the word "planning" became either overused or redundant, depending on how you look at it. It was a year of scenario planning, reforecasting and exceptional reporting. The constantly shifting landscape meant we had to collect a lot of market data to make decisions. Forecasting models and scenario planning activities relied a lot on market data and government decisions. Every day a new "what if?" scenario was developed and conceptualised.
Traditionally used and deployed predictive models became near redundant due to the changing context of 2020 (as they were outside the boundaries in which they were built). The year led us to talk more to customers as we wanted to gauge consumer sentiment and confidence and understand their mindset to aid decision making. Good unplanned activity as result of all this was linking the consumer stories with the behavioural and market data and understanding the ‘why’ a lot better.
On a personal note, other unplanned tricky activity was to teach my five-year-old son Shaaz the concept of clockwise and anti-clockwise movement for him to learn the analogue clock. (No wonder 22% of 18- to 24-year-olds struggle to tell the time from a traditional clock according to a You Gov poll in 2019)
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
Data and insight will definitely be much more universally embedded within the organisation. Covid-19 has helped made data the centre point of decision making at the highest level. Never before in the Parliament we have seen Prime Ministers grilled on, "where is the data and where is the evidence?". I am already seeing similar trends across my organisation, where data and insights have increasingly become non-negotiable. Covid-19 has certainly turbo-charged this cultural change. My expectation is to hear the phrase, "where is the evidence?" more across organisations. Data will genuinely rule over subjective judgement for the first time.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Covid-19 has given me a sense of realisation on how important data skills are in saving lives and in the service of humanity. This year in particular has made me realise that my skills can indirectly help save lives. I would like to volunteer my skills for companies whose business model is to support the medical profession in understanding disease, patient recovery through data with an end game to save as many lives as I can. Data scientists advising doctors to collect information to help diagnose disease is not far off and I want to play my part in it.
What has been your path to power?
Unknowingly, the seeds were sown during school days as maths was my favorite subject. This led to me taking up the most fashionable degree of the time, Computer Science Engineering. On graduating, I decided to join a Masters in Business Administration programme. The realisation came during my dissertation on loyalty schemes, with Tesco Clubcard as the case study, which made me aware of how my statistical and coding skills - learnt during my engineering - combined with business management education can be used for commercial success.
Following that, I worked with data in different settings to achieve different outcomes: at HMRC to calculate tax credits; at Lloyds to prevent bad debts through developing risk scorecards; at HBOS as a business support analyst to launch new products; at GoCompare to optimise marketing performance; and at Kin + Carta as a consultant to help companies use data as business asset.
Now, I am at The Royal Mint to use data for innovation and new propositions. As my seniority and experience has grown, so has the application of data. I now advise various start-ups on how to use data as a pivot, helping them define business models and sit as a data non-exec advising how to use data as an asset.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Leaving a legacy, reputation and tangible outcome in every organisation I have worked in. For example, setting up the whole predictive modelling function and optimising in excess of £80 million a year spend on marketing in one of the organisations I worked in.
Getting published in the Oxford University Journal in 2005 for my first ever data analytics project on Tesco Clubcard and subsequently winning many awards during my career
As leader, developing careers and showing direction to team members and helping them to succeed in their career aspirations, with some of them becoming leaders and data and tech entrepreneurs
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
My career goal now is to show businesses how to pivot their business models around data and use data to innovate and develop new business models. So far, I have used data to accelerate business strategies - the goal going forwards is to use data to define business strategies.
I am also excited about using data in sports to make them truly realise the Moneyball concept through player recruitment and match strategies. Use data to win matches and championships.
My purpose is to use my skills to indirectly save lives and benefit society through the application of data for good.
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?
Data and analytics are getting more and more aligned to The Royal Mint’s business now. In the past, companies like The Royal Mint suffered from too much fragmented data and too little genuine insight. Data was also one-dimensional, as there was a lack of coherent market and competitor data.
The industry does not have a body which collates and shares data, so data generally is pretty fragmented, and it is difficult to get basic information such as market size, growth rate, etc. Even internally, data from different areas of the business were dispersed and decisions were made on one-dimensional data which was locally collected and not made visible.
But as a team we have inculcated the culture of data literacy, where everyone now understands the importance of collection and democratisation of data. This has led to a lot better alignment of data-based decision-making and the organisation, primarily because the data is much more trusted, available, accurate and timely. Proof is also in the pudding, where we have evidenced how data-based decision-making has directly impacted customer and commercials. "Where is the insight?" is the most used phrase of 2020 in The Royal Mint, after "sorry, I was on mute."
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
Developing a data culture is about getting people excited about data and what the art of the possible with data looks like. It is also about simplifying data through visualisations and stories. Data literacy can be better achieved when data and creative work together. Logic and magic work best together as magic helps to simplify logic in an interesting way making it engaging. Data literacy is both a push and a pull concept. We can learn a lot from how primary school teachers excite students into maths through visualisation and observation.