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Simon Gratton, director of data products, Royal Mail Group

Simon Gratton, director of data products, Royal Mail Group

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

 

Data is a critical element of our historical, current and future success. The postcode, for example, is everywhere, from individual navigation devices, asset sensors through to e-commerce channels and websites. We are scaling our data engineering, data science and data analytics capabilities to optimise our operational processes at cloud scale. Harnessing critical interactions across our operations and with our customers at pace, will enable increasingly intelligent automation and personalised interactions and offerings, putting customer at the heart of the digital agenda.

 

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

 

Covid-19 has impacted the very fabric of our society, having a profound change on how we work and how we live. From a personal perspective, this has resulted in an unexpected change of career direction which has required me to onboard and transition virtually for the first time.

 

I have yet to meet my new Royal Mail colleagues face-to-face! Our data science and software teams have responded amazingly to new business challenges delivered by the pandemic; building crucial applications in a matter of days. The platform engineering teams have managed to continue to scale our operation to meet the unprecedented demand for our services, all through the backdrop of remote working, and often lockdown.

 

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

 

Following the UK’s exit from the EU and the end of the transition period, we are seeing a number of new processes and business changes that need to be addressed in part through new data, integration and analytical approaches.

 

I expect more situations to require AI, BI and CX interactions on a more automated, repeatable and low-code basis. As we continue our transition to the cloud, I anticipate more opportunities to combine data, engineering, science and analytics capabilities into composite data services that deliver tangible benefits for our customers and our colleagues.

 

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

 

Royal Mail is committed to keeping the UK connected, especially during the pandemic. Thus far we have executed over 40 digital initiatives to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on our people and customers. This has included apps for the delivery of Covid-19 test kits, new API services for online retail and pharmaceutical deliveries, new parcel collection services from the home and many analytical improvements to further protect our staff. We are active in the world of academia, with research and open data innovations. I see this continuing at greater pace in 2021.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

The smart use of data has always been central to what I do. My data journey started in the mid-1990s, at what is now IBM Cognos, during a pivotal point in the business intelligence (BI) revolution. I then worked as an interim across different businesses and vertical sectors in BI, integration, IT consolidation, architecture and ultimately management roles. This period also placed me in numerous data remediation transformations in the run-up to the "Y2K problem".

 

My first experience at Royal Mail came pre-privatisation on a breath-taking transformation delivered against a backdrop of declining mail revenues. This helped seed an ability to translate complex board-level business challenges into executable delivery programmes.

 

At Telus, I delivered large scale IT transformations during periods of M&A, divestiture and group consolidation. At Zurich UK, I established its first chief data office and digital innovation lab at a time when establishing analytics and data science capabilities became of boardroom interest.

 

My time leading data, analytics and CIO advisory at Capgemini Financial Services, followed by numerous portfolio roles across Deloitte, HSBC, BKL, Bletchley Park, Centrica and Schneider Electric, has taught me how to quickly deliver value from data in any scenario.

 

Finally, at JCB and now back at Royal Mail, I lead the commercialisation of data as a key way of both delivering and improving customer service.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

It’s always my last successful delivery! I enjoyed my role in the Telus transformation across its Canadian businesses. At Zurich UK, I was able to implement its first data strategy through a series of rapid and innovative application deliveries. With Capgemini, my work developing financial service data apprenticeships was rewarding. More recently, at JCB my work on embedding engineering into digital consumer products was particularly noteworthy.

 

My recent return to Royal Mail has been set against the backdrop of the enormous and ongoing challenge of Covid-19. In many ways this has been the culmination of my journey so far. My delivery of data intelligence-led products has assumed greater significance than ever in a business which is playing a key role in keeping the UK connected through its key worker status, while at a critical point in its transformation to becoming more of a parcels-led business.

 

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

 

A professional focus of mine in 2021 is to put our people and our customers at the heart of everything we do. More time spent on the people side of what we do, how we operate and how we grow our talent invariably leads to more productive teams, more fulfilled individuals and I sincerely hope leads to a fun and challenging work environment - to say nothing of happier customers

 

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 think this is a journey rather than a destination that requires continued effort and focus. That said, our technology and data strategies are increasingly tightly connected to the business strategy without question. I think joint collaboration with the operation and early engagement on emerging business needs in partnership with technology helps to cement trust and alignment across the organisation.

 

Having very clear and shared outcomes such as our future parcel network strategy make it considerably easier to succeed. Across the organisation, we are consistent in our approach and vision for how data and analytics play their part in delivering a product-driven agile and cloud-based approach to linking business intelligence with data services.

 

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

 

Modern data practitioners need to have a blend of technical and business change skills. Data practitioners need to be able to converse in the common language of business, while business colleagues need to be able understand their growing reliance on corporate data assets. At Royal Mail, we have developed an innovative, agile model that brings diverse skillsets together with delivery leadership from a business portfolio, data platform and data product perspective. A data-first mindset is the basis of a successful and collaborative approach to delivering key business objectives in my mind. Data practitioners need to be pragmatic and empathetic business partners, rather than faceless, technology delivery droids, if they want to achieve pervasive data literacy from a cultural perspective.

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