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Jason Foster, founder and chief executive, Cynozure

Jason Foster

Path to power

I started my career as a project manager, defining and implementing customer facing and analytics solutions in retail at Debenhams. I fell into data properly after I left there and joined a small, specialist business intelligence and data warehousing consultancy.

 

I spent ten years working alongside organisations, aligning their insights to business outcomes and performance. I learnt the craft of how you bring together people, technology and data to help drive a business forward. I learnt the fundamentals of good data strategy, from definition to execution and refinement. We successfully grew that business to point of acquisition and a year after that I made the decision to move out of consulting and into industry.

 

I took an exciting role leading a new big data capability for Marks & Spencer. There I started as a team of one and grew that to 30 people, who designed, built and supported an enterprise analytics platform that served across the group, eg, marketing, supply chain, finance, ecommerce, buying and merchandising and customer services. I was also responsible for leading on the marketing and loyalty technology transformation programme, and for the implementation of its Sparks membership club.

 

I left M&S to build Cynozure, a business that can help bring positive use of data to the world.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

My proudest achievement has been establishing Cynozure as a recognised and growing brand. We set out with big ambitions to create an attractive business that people wanted to work with as part of the team, as a partner or as a customer. I’ve been honoured to create and serve our community as part of this journey and I’m very lucky to work with some brilliant people. Our work has helped our clients’ humanitarian efforts across the world, preserve the UK’s cultural heritage, support children with cancer, promote the arts and many more commercial outcomes for our other clients, all of which I am super proud.

 

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

Given how much negativity there is at the moment, I’m learning to take inspiration from those who see the world in positive light and are helping us do the same. Hans Rosling is one of those people who has helped remind me how amazing human progress has been and how much better the world is now than it has ever been before.

 

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

I’ve learnt never to expect things to turn out the way you planned. In the crazy world of entrepreneurship, this rings even more true. So, from a business perspective, while we achieved all we wanted to and more, it happened very differently than planned at the start of 2019. There was definitely a sense that the uncertainty caused by Brexit, elections and all that came with that, made everyone more cautious. However, the data world continued to progress and find better ways to deliver value which is a regular and trusted development I can expect to continue.

 

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

While I don’t expect the AI hype bubble to burst, I do think that in 2020 people will start to be more realistic about what they can expect to achieve with it and focus on use cases better aligned to strategy. I also believe we’ll see more and more people move into senior data leadership roles, taking a lead in defining what “good” looks like for their organisations and putting in plans to achieve that. There is also likely to be more consolidation in the technology market through acquisitions but also a proliferation of new and start-up technology making its way into business.

 

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

I’m passionate about working towards creating a better future for all through the open and positive use of data. There are so many more things we can use data and technology for, beyond selling more stuff, meddling in elections and creating an all-powerful human killing AI. There are so many great brains in the world and we should be pointing them at society’s biggest challenges. Data and technology can save lives, improve medicine, help the most vulnerable people, reverse climate change, build sustainable and collaborative cities and create a future we all want to be part of.

 

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

I wish this question asked “What is the biggest challenge your clients face…” because it’s certainly not technology. Technology is the easy bit. Organisations struggle most at knowing which business problems or opportunities to prioritise and how best to set themselves up in the best way to achieve success in an agile and iterative way.

 

Despite the hype around data and analytics, leadership teams and organisations are still apprehensive to invest, unclear of the benefit and skeptical of the outcomes. Culturally, organisations need to get past this and develop clarity around how being data enabled will benefit them and their outcomes.

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