In the first half of my career, I worked in finance, where I primarily specialised in building complex models, for example, detailed cashflow models in the oil industry and sophisticated commercial pricing models in the travel industry.
About nine years ago, I took a gamble and moved from providing finance data to internal customers, to developing a service providing data and analytics consulting to external clients. As a first move out of finance it felt like a significant risk leaving a well-trodden path to explore a new field, however, this turned out to be a liberating time, as we soon began to grow the business.
The initial success allowed us to secure additional investment and enabled further centralisation of analyst resource and development of new solutions – growing from a team of five analysts to over 50 and implement new technology to transform our client deliverables with a suite of revenue generating products. The growth in this business lead to further leadership scope and opportunities, eventually leading a multinational consultancy team.
This year, I am moving to join a technology, analytics and consulting start-up to share the experience gained in data to help businesses unlock the potential of their travel data.
Some of large data product launches have been proud moments and certainly the culmination of significant teamwork and efforts. My teams launched two major new client products in 2016 and in 2019 in different organisations. We now have well over 200 major clients, and tens of thousands of users on our visualisation products.
I am proud that we have raised the strategic profile of data in the business from being an overhead, where costs are to be controlled, to a dynamic, fast-growing, revenue generating function, confirming the adage that data is the fuel of the 21st century economy.
I have had the pleasure of being able to put together a really strong team, and we have worked together in different organisations for many years, particularly Carl Scotney, who has worked for me for around nine years. I believe that inspiration comes from the ground up, and we need to have a culture and mechanisms to capture that inspiration. I find it inspirational where I see the team really expressing a can-do attitude to problem solving and exploring all kinds of creative ways to turn the vision into a reality.
Although data is widely recognised as underpinning modern business, I am still surprised there is a such a lack of understanding and skills. Last summer as a creative exercise I took to LinkedIn to write a series of blogs with the objective to encourage people to take more of an interest in data. I tried to make them educational and to grapple with some of the jargon, technology and concepts. I wasn’t expecting to keep going or for it to have had such a positive response, so I plan to continue in some form this year.
The growth opportunity in our industry is enormous, the demand for insights, and forecasts is ever-growing. I think that the availability, affordability and range of technology is keeping pace. However, I see an ongoing challenge for organisations to culturally transform to leverage this.
Changing the data culture takes longer than you would expect as it requires changing of mind-sets and processes, plus an investment in leaders who can bridge the gap between the technology and business requirements. This means fostering different and very broad skill-sets in the business and requires a high level of experience.
The biggest opportunity I see is in the continued opportunity for technology and data to sweat the small stuff. As an example, I have been working on several AI projects this year that are not, on the face of it, very sexy or newsworthy. However, they focus on behind-the-scenes process efficiencies, taking tasks that previously would have eaten up many man days to complete each month, being automated and achieving good results and better levels of accuracy. I see that this will gather space as the expertise grows and with the continued sharing of technology in this area.
In our organisations, we have very smart, data-oriented individuals who understand and care about the business and want to make the organisation better by dealing with the data challenges in front of them. They have certain expectations, fuelled by consumer-technology, and can get very frustrated by our infrastructure, controls and governance procedures.
The technology challenge we have is to create an environment where we do more than pay lip-service to these people. We need to create a positive data workplace by providing a range of tools, platforms and services where experimentation is encouraged, but corporate governance and responsibility is maintained.