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Christopher Dean, head of data, business intelligence and analytics, City Plumbing Supplies Holdings

Christopher Dean

Path to power

Having started my career as an analyst over 12 years ago, I’ve held several different roles in a variety of industries but each new job has unlocked many skills and lessons learnt as I climbed the career ladder.

 

The biggest skill that I gained when at EC Harris and McCormick is the ability to communicate and analyse data to unlock multi-million pound efficiencies to actionable insights, even from dull subjects such as Tarmac, to interesting ones like herbs and spices. Data is data.

 

My next role thrust me into the spotlight of global insights at Nielsen where insight is king; who knew you could drink a Heineken product in 98% of the world. Having spent many years travelling, working on global super brands, it was time to make decisions for myself at Travis Perkins and no longer consult.

 

At TP and then City Plumbing I’ve had the ability to write the strategy and then deliver a leading cloud solution to meet the business requirements to ’self-serve’ all the way to data science.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Defining, developing and then implementing a single external analytics platform for all Travis Perkins supplies in a single application. Working with over 100 suppliers, to look at challenges and desires so they could unlock the power of our data to grow their businesses.

 

This led to me being guest speaker on Big Data for Google, Qlik, SAP, Catalyst, Big Data London and Data Expo as our journey focused on UX and UI not the technology. The achievement was also recognition for my team, who were shortlisted for BCS Awards.

 

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

Inspiration for me comes from a range of people, including my team. This ranges from the disrupters, such as Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, who have pioneered the way, to Boyon Slat, who has developed a way of cleaning up the oceans, and Barack Obama, who built a platform for change.

 

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

2019 was a fantastic year for my team and me, as we were able to accelerate our journey to 100% cloud and remove all legacy technology debt. This resulted in not only dismantling all silos and moving to the data lake, but in re-engineering the data to maximise the power of the cloud. However, improvement has its problems - dashboard dribble. There are no longer a few experts; but analysts having access to more data than ever before. This is a challenge for the future as we educate colleagues on the actual data and how to present insights.

 

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

2020 will be a foundational year for improving upon the basics that GDPR introduced, as consumers want to understand the ethics and processes of how you use their information. A big focus for many organisations will be to achieve ISO 27701 and harden their data processes, while companies with data outside the UK will need to look at the implications of Brexit beyond the initial separation and what that means for their organisation. Companies that haven’t migrated to the data lake will most certainly look at the concept of the semantic layer to leverage cross-functional data-sets to broaden their insights.

 

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

There will be two notable emerging opportunities of data, mainly “data for good”, rather than mischief or profits.

The first will be healthcare; IoT data will better support the elderly and vulnerable before issues arise, while data science will help speed up combating diseases greater than ever before.

 

Second is the consumer pull and the effect on our planet. People will want to understand their impact on the environment as a desire to be more carbon neutral. I believe the food industry will see the first wave as consumers will make choices on the ethics, location and any manufacturing involved.

 

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

The biggest challenge within City Plumbing is no longer about the technology but making the most of the data. When deploying a data driven culture, knowing who is in your audience from a data doubter to a data aristocrat is the key for a transformation change at every level. A combination of skilled technical individuals, who can create scalable data pipelines, to scientists/analysts, who can communicate their answers, is key for our actionable insights. We will have to build closer relationships with information security and general counsel to drive a data conscious business and enhance data management with integrations to drive data lineage artefacts.

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