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Antonio Acuña, head of consulting, Parity

Antonio Acuna

Path to power

I started by leading a few digital startups in the early 2000s, just before the dot.com bubble burst, before moving to government as a civil servant. Initially I worked on technology projects in the environmental sector, and then I moved to open data and digital transformation at the Government Digital Service and environment. After 15 years in government, I currently work in the private sector leading Parity Group consultancy services. Throughout this time, I have also been teaching at several universities, touching base with the next generation of professionals.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Receiving an MBE for taking data.gov.uk, the UK’s open data catalogue, from a very early alpha into a fully-fledged data service that enabled many data projects nationally and internationally.

 

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

To fall into a cliché, my dad. While he is no longer with us, he was a brilliant mind and honest to a fault, He always reminded me that you can be clever and nice, successful and honest, and that it is not what the bosses think of you, but what you think of your work that matters.

 

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

2019 was predictable, easy access to technological prowess continued to increase exponentially, and with it its money generating abilities. The rise of virtual assistants has deepened the privacy debt incurred by users and created an industry trend, AI, which promises the moon but, in most instances, delivers very little, yet. I’d would have liked to see less walled garden approaches and more open source efforts.

 

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

We find ourselves in the middle of an existential crisis where technology, which is amoral in nature, is being regulated under a moral framework. The nefarious practice of exchanging personal data for services exists in an ethical vacuum. But it is racing against a legislative corpus, determined to protect the individual against the normalisation of stealth surveillance by data appropriation. Data ethics is the problem we need to tackle in 2020.

 

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

The use of machine learning in healthcare is probably the biggest impact technology will have in society and the economy, not only from the point of view of diagnostics and healthcare management, but as a fundamental pillar for modelling the dynamics of diseases and potential cures on the go. Skin and wearable sensors could send data to services that design, make and modify cures, leading to real changes in the biology of the patient as they go about their daily life. This will create a new market for health analytics, if we get the ethics and ownership right.

 

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

Developing and adopting a data strategy and a data management framework driven by user needs. If companies don’t match their vision with a bottom up assessment of what their needs are to make that vision happen, and design a strategy to deliver against those needs, then they will spend an eternity producing documents and structures that mean nothing and are unlikely to impact the bottom line.

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