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1. Anita Fernqvist, chief data officer and operations director, Zurich Insurance UK

Anita Fernqvist

Path to power

At the outset of my career I was fortunate to spend time at both Hewlett-Packard and IBM, both of which gave me a passion for the corporate world and the limitless opportunities that technology can bring. After qualifying, I decided to join the insurance industry, and have spent the past 15 years delivering change of all guises.

 

From delivering simple technology change and implementing pan-European policy administration platforms, to building robotics and continuous improvement capabilities and driving organisational design initiatives, everything has a common thread: data. The reliance on data, creation of data, the value of data, and the damage that can be done by not respecting data.

 

I was asked four years ago to use this experience to run what was the MI team at Zurich, and work with the team to determine a suitable data strategy for an organisation with a burning legacy landscape, high expectations and in turn frustrations.

 

It did not start out big, or glamorous, but a strategy turned into a delivery roadmap, which in turn led to creating a data function, building a data asset, and developing a data culture across the organisation. We have since added predictive analytics and robotics to the function, and now have a large function delivering on the second phase of the data and analytics strategy. It has been quite a journey.

 

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Undoubtedly, building the data team at Zurich. We started small, battled to get our voices heard, and step by step built a mature data capability. There have been many successes, and just as many lessons learned the hard way. But, looking back at the transition from the small team of 11 to what has grown into a mature, self-sufficient and professional team of industry recognised data professionals with fantastic employee satisfaction scores and a fabulously fun working culture, is something that everyone involved should be proud of. I certainly am.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I have been fortunate to have had many over the years. Different people provide inspiration at various points, whether you know them or take inspiration from afar. At the start of my career, my first role models were my cousin, now an expert GDPR lawyer, and the first female CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina, and there have been a large variety since. I like the concept of having my own virtual board of advisors, whether they know it or not.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

No. After several years of delivery, some of the bumps in the road were more predictable. We knew what we needed to deliver and kept razor focused on the plan. Alongside that came new opportunities. The team has grown from 35 to what will be nearly 200 this year, with functions such as predictive analytics, robotics and continuous improvement joining the party, and with that the definition of the next phase of our data and analytics strategy, alongside our new customer function. What with taking up a couple of external responsibilities, my role has changed immeasurably, which in turn has created new challenges for the leaders under me.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

The dawn of a new decade drives a renewed business focus, and with that data and analytics are in ever increasing demand. We will continue to need rapid solutions to the challenge at a time where competition for resources is tough, even without IR35 coming along. Innovation is going to be key.

 

The data paradox of increasing opportunities at a time of increasing regulation is ever more apparent. We will continue to see an increased focus on data ethics by the industry, as we all seek to do right by our customers while progressing the data agenda.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

Data and technology will continue to disrupt in ways we could not envisage. The biggest opportunity out of this has got to be driving positive change. While businesses progress their individual agendas, we have an opportunity as a collective to use data for good and make inroads to help society as a whole. The challenge will be getting the balance right between protecting our personal data and allowing it to be used for the greater good, and on the industry side motivating organisations to collaborate for altruistic reasons.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

The greatest of all is not technology, it is cultural. Driving a true data by design culture in turn pre-empts many of the tech challenges at the outset. Achieving and maintaining a data led culture across all levels of the organisation is something we all grapple with, and without data at the core, no transformation strategy will truly achieve its full potential.

 

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