I joined a business intelligence software vendor as a consultant in the early 90s when it was a huge growth area. I focused on project management and after a successful spell at Vodafone, I established my own project and programme management consultancy. After helping a number of large organisations to successfully define and embed their analytics functions, I joined Coventry Building Society in 2016 to lead their data warehousing programme and the development of a centre of excellence. Like everywhere, data is of growing importance to the society and our focus has now broadened to the creation and maintenance of a broader data agenda, including strategy, governance and advanced analytics.
First and foremost, work is about people. I’m immensely proud of the team we have at the Coventry. We brought in a few great people from outside, but our success is predominantly driven by our home-grown talent. Over 60% of my team was recruited from within the Coventry and it has been particularly rewarding to see those people develop. Internal mobility also makes sense from a business perspective because these people already understand the society - they live and breathe our mission and values. This strategy has given us high levels of commitment and low rates of attrition.
I have worked with some great people but I’d have to say Mike Saylor, the CEO of MicroStrategy, who is a truly inspirational speaker and one of the first people to understand the value of data at the beginning of the Internet age.
As part of a team event at the end of 2018, I wrote a Christmas card to my “future self”. On opening it a year later, I was pleased to see that I’d achieved most of what I had set out to do. Progress on data governance has been particularly good and we also made our first steps into data science.
I believe we’ll see greater industrialisation in AI. Larger UK organisations are using machine learning in anger and at increasing scale, but wider adoption is limited. A lot of use cases also seem to be “build rather than buy”, so I would suggest we’ll see further growth in specific market segments. In terms of business information, we may see greater focus on natural language search as a way of accessing insight; vendors have been talking about this for years but it’s finally happening.
Opportunities are everywhere. Personally, though, I hope our industry will play its part in responding to climate change: it could help us to optimise power consumption, track our individual carbon footprints, or more accurately predict extreme weather events.
What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?
Digital transformation usually happens via discrete strategic programmes, where the focus often ends up on the technology rather than the data. Data governance standards and frameworks will take you so far but, if you want to keep data top of mind, you need to embed people within those programmes. So, the biggest challenge is often a people one, as the right people need to be allocated to the right strategic initiatives, while making sure you can still meet “business as usual” commitments - and find time for continuous improvement as well.