From a degree in Geography and GIS, I fell into the world of data almost 30 years ago when I joined a small GIS software vendor. After collaborating with a direct marketing data firm (CMT) on a project, I was asked to join it to set up a data and analytics consulting business (MIC) which was ultimately acquired by Acxiom. I joined Sky TV in 1997 to run the business intelligence team which started a long career in big corporates, including Orange and 11 years at Telefónica O2, latterly as general manager for business intelligence. In 2013, I joined the board at News UK as its first chief data officer and then moved to Sainsbury’s as chief data officer in 2016. In late 2018, I decided that, after a lifetime in corporate businesses, I wanted to go back to my roots and join a more entrepreneurial business and, since September of last year, I have been group CDO for Pepper, a private equity-owned global financial services business. Since early 2016, I have also been a non-executive director on the board of Global Data, an AIM-listed business information business.
There are probably two highlights that stand out: firstly, I’ve loved leading teams nurturing raw talent that has grown and developed into data-centric business leaders, the CDOs of the future; and, secondly, I’ve been really proud to be recognised as a leader in the DataIQ 100 since its inception and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with people that I respect hugely. I think it’s massively important that we find people that can represent our industry and provide continuity in a sector that continues to change at a startling pace.
Learn about the business you are working in first…Don’t think the technology and science is all that matters. You may be the brightest analyst or data scientist, but unless you can put your analysis and science in the context of the business, it’s worthless.
Really not…I had a great job at Sainsbury’s, but a change in circumstances made me re-evaluate what I wanted out of my career and, after nearly 25 years in corporate life, I decided to join a far smaller, entrepreneurial business and take up a global role in a group function. While I’ve enjoyed every job I have had, my new role has put a new spring in my step. Fundamentally, I’m still doing the same thing - trying to take a business through a change process to put information at the heart of the organisation and seeking out opportunities to apply data and analytics to drive great outcomes for our customers and shareholders. But now, I’m doing that with a matrix team across four continents, six time zones and nine businesses. I’m also spending a considerable amount of my time helping evaluate potential acquisition targets for Pepper which is completely new to me.
I said last year that it felt like we were at a point of inflection where businesses really started to get the opportunity that data presented. I think this will continue in 2019 and bring with it some potentially fundamental shifts in businesses. Specifically, with new tools and technologies opening up data, 2019 could be the year when analytics is genuinely democratised and people right across organisations can start to engage with reporting, analytics and machine learning like never before. That may mean a flattening out in the rapidly rising cost of talent…
By thinking globally. You don’t have to have a global footprint as a business to be able to fish for talent around the world. There are some fantastic pools of talent in pretty much every continent and bright people with great skills quite often look for opportunities to apply their trade outside of their immediate location. So, don’t be afraid to engage with organisations who can help you source talent beyond the UK shores.
I think 2018 saw the industry wake up to the challenges around bias in analytics and, specifically, machine learning applications. With ethics in analytics being so front of mind, that can only be a good thing for the industry and consumers that we want to do business with.