I spent the first 20 years of my career working in a variety of project, operational and strategy roles in the world of telco, initially at One2One (which became T-Mobile), then at Cable & Wireless. This was followed by a stint working at Vodafone in Romania for three years, then with Brightstar in Moscow for a year, before returning to the UK to take a role with Vodafone Group.
After 18 months at Vodafone, I moved to Sky for five years and eventually made the leap to my current role at the Home Office in Summer 2018.
Over the course of my career, my roles have evolved from customer service operational planning to project delivery, from large-scale ERP deployments to process and performance transformations - all scattered with a healthy dose of integration, interfaces and databases.
As the focus of industry and society has moved from large monolithic systems to end-to-end processes and more recently to integrated data, so has my career. I have been incredibly lucky to work with some of the very best and brightest technologists and some inspirational business leaders along the way.
It was a solid team effort, rather than an individual achievement - the launch and roll-out of targeted advertising, AdSmart, at Sky. Using the rich data set we held, we were able to introduce a capability that enables adverts to be specifically targeted at individual customers based on their demographics, viewing history and geography. This opened access to TV advertising to the wider SME enterprise market, activated a new revenue stream for Sky while minimally diluting existing revenue streams and is delivered seamlessly to the customers without them being aware whether any specific advert they see is targeted or not.
I’ve had some great managers and senior leaders over the years and I wouldn’t want to single out an individual from that group. When I was at Sky, I was lucky enough to be part of its leadership development programme and got to spend some time with Dr Martyn Newman, author of “Emotional Capitalists: The New Leaders”, and it would be fair to say that’s one of the most valuable development activities I’ve ever undertaken. I regularly refer back to the materials and techniques from those sessions and so Martyn is certainly one of the people that’s had the biggest impact on me.
Given the macro-political environment in 2019, I don’t think anyone in the public sector could have accurately anticipated how 2019 would turn out, between moving dates and scenarios for EU Exit and an out-of-cycle General Election, the moving goalposts and priorities presented a unique challenge for the public sector in 2019. In terms of local plans, we were able to successfully navigate the uncertainty and continue to enhance our underlying data capabilities and processes, while keeping the deliveries for our internal customers on track. That is a genuine reflection of the professionalism and commitment of teams across the Home Office and wider government.
I think the biggest challenge for the industry this year will be around accelerating use of AI, in particular machine-learning, while balancing the need to protect data subjects, preventing unconscious bias, ensuring proportionality and balancing the need for transparency with the requirement to protect commercially sensitive information. The challenge lies not in the technology but in the business awareness and understanding of both the technical possibilities and also the related risks.
For the public sector, the biggest opportunity relates to how and when government departments and agencies share information in order to provide more integrated services to the public. We must ensure we only use data for legal, legitimate and proportionate purposes, but we also have a duty to ensure we deliver frontline services as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Recently, for example, we have enabled the photos that are captured for passports to be used in the driving license renewal process (where an appropriate photo exists and the citizen gives permission) - the public and governmental appetite for more initiatives like this will only continue to grow.
The ability to match disparate datasets and use them to inform policy, strategy and operations is key to efficient government use of data, especially where data is being shared between organisations. Without a common key to identify citizens, migrants and tourists uniquely in use across operational units, being able to match records confidently across organisations is critical and requires some smart technology and some even smarter people to tune it. Industrialising this and ensuring that the confidence in the match of records is appropriate to the use case is likely to remain one of the biggest tech challenges we face.