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Martin Aylward, Head of smart technology implementation, EDF Energy

Path to power

 

After a few interesting early roles at the Lord Chancellor’s Office and the Medical Research Council in London, after moving back to Brighton, I did what most people do in Brighton and got a job at American Express. I then moved to Royal & Sun Alliance where I managed to get onto its global digital leadership initiative at the peak of the dot.com boom, which led to me getting a job in the fledgling e-commerce team and a lead role in the creation of MORE TH>N. It was in this role that I cut my teeth on all things digital and data and set up the rest of my career. Then, a love of all things French led me to EDF Energy where I headed up in first the acquisition and then the customer marketing teams, taking a lead role in re-launching the brand, building the direct and digital marketing capability and introducing Zingy to the world. I also had the pleasure of leading the activation of our sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics. For the last two years, I’ve led the smart technology team, with a focus on the smart metering roll-out, which spans digital, data, operations, marketing and, for the first time in my career, physical assets.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

Always difficult to say what the highlight is, but a recent one is turning around EDF Energy’s smart metering programme, in no small part due to the obsessive focus on data. The smart roll-out also provides a fantastic opportunity to get value out of billions on data items in the future!

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Take more risks, stay on the UCL Business School innovation course (which was full of middle-aged leaders even though they tell you that innovation comes from young people) and definitely go on that global digital leadership thing in 2000.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

It generally did. GDPR was a bit of a non-event for businesses that were already managing their data well and, being an eternal optimist, I was (sort of) confident that we would hit all our business targets!

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I think 2019 will be the year that the industry can take advantage of the focus it received around GDPR, but without the need to concentrate on governance and instead deliver huge value to organisations. There will be more automation, robotics and machine learning across all sectors, not just the usual digital suspects, with the opportunity for data professionals to take on roles outwith the traditional data team.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

We pursue a strategy of getting in new talent and growing our own. The former is difficult, but very important to ensure that you get new perspectives on how to get the best out of data. However, one very good source is from our links with France and getting French post-graduates on the VIE programme. We have also had success in cross-training non-data people in data roles, with one key benefit being their understanding of the wider business context and the ability to work across cross-functional teams. Finally, a very cost effective way has been to work with our offshore partners who can access highly-skilled staff at a fraction of the cost of hiring in the UK.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

Not necessarily an aspect, but the fact that main boards are now much more aware of how much value can be created by investing in data. This will enable data teams to get the investment needed to make a real difference to their organisations.

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