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Ben Downe, director of decision intelligence, BCA

Ben Downe

Path to power

I started off at Burger King in the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport during the summer holidays as a regular team member but ended up building a new database system to manage staff records. The first job after graduating in economics was at a boutique consulting firm called Diamond, which specialised in data analytics and IT strategy.

 

My ten years at Diamond were full of fresh challenges with new customers and testing deadlines. We were a small team with a very supportive and collegiate culture.

 

Diamond was purchased in 2010 by PwC and I spent the following three years building the capabilities within PwC Consulting for data analysis. I was then keen to work longer term with a company that didn’t have an existing capability for data analysis. BCA combined my love of cars with an interesting and untouched dataset. During the past six years, I’ve built the BCA Decision Intelligence team into a diverse group of 35 professionals.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Creating the BCA Valuations system and watching how that has been developed by our data science team over the past three years. Previously, BCA had a wealth of transaction data but was not generating the insight that would bring real benefits to customers.

 

Delivering to budget, time and specification was the highlight of my career to date. BCA Valuations is now leading the wholesale automotive market for accuracy and allows us to offer new products to our customers.

 

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

I’m a big fan of Hadley Wickham. He has done amazing things for the “R community” over the years. I saw him speak at London R in 2019 and was really impressed with how down to earth and self-deprecating he is.

 

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

We recruited ten new team members into the decision intelligence team in 2019. They surprised me by having a much broader impact than I could have imagined across all areas of the company. One of the biggest impacts was in our analytics and insights function, where we brought together all the analysts across BCA into a single team. The benefits of a more joined up approach are too numerous to list here. BCA has also introduced a new retail platform (cinch.co.uk) which has created new opportunities that I would not have been able to anticipate.

 

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

The combination of cloud and open source provides significant opportunities for the industry. I see a significant reduction in the barriers to entry for machine learning and AI. Having a full machine learning environment available from the cloud, the training from online universities and specialist partners to help, means that any company can adopt AI. We embraced these tools last year to convert our machine learning APIs to a cloud native approach using an open source stack. This provides flexibility at much lower cost. I foresee more companies adopting this strategy and moving away from proprietary approaches in 2020.

 

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

Mobility is critical to our society and enables all the other parts of our economy and public sector to function. BCA is a key enabler to mobility through the broad range of our activities across the automotive value chain. The work my team do at BCA is all geared around building ever greater efficiency, for example, identifying the right car for your lifestyle on cinch.co.uk, providing a more accurate part exchange value at a car dealership and efficient movement of vehicles throughout the country. The more successful we are, the more cost-effective mobility becomes for everyone else in society.

 

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

The expectations of our customers are increasing all the time. We are looking at how to get near real-time access to the data for driving AI and machine learning models to help improve efficiency across the business. Our most recent AI application is called “Value Enhancement” and this offers automated repair recommendations to vendors to ensure they get the best return on the vehicle disposals. Feeding this system with more real-time information from across BCA will allow us to further improve accuracy and efficiency.

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