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David Walters, data investment director, Alliance Fund Managers

David Walters

Path to power

My first job was as an apprentice welder in the shipyards of Birkenhead - which taught me a thing or two. An early career shift to become a Sybase DBA and developer gave me a completely new set of skills that I have taken with me throughout my career. Since then I have worked in the UK, US and Europe for companies such as RSA, Trinity Mirror, Chubb Insurance and Vertex, and have always put data at the heart of operations.

 

I became CIO for a number of private equity backed businesses before going on to become the UK’s first PE data director at NorthEdge Capital. Working on the other side of the investment table gave me a unique insight into building data IP within high growth companies.

 

More recently I built and ran one of the UK’s fastest growing AI practices for Manchester based Intechnica, creating a data science as a service model to outsource clients data science, machine learning and AI requirements.

 

I now operate as an investment manager at MSIF (AFM), supporting investments into data rich organisations. We recognise data as the life blood of business and support UK companies to untap their data IP.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

At LBM I was part of a management team that successfully turned around and transacted a private equity backed business to an American BPO trade buyer. At the time, LBM was the investment house’s biggest investment but after five years had been struggling to attract any meaningful suitors. I was brought in as CIO and created analytics and digital functions to help the company understand more about their customer base, drive customer satisfaction and increase sales conversions. It was the data and analytics excellence that quickly attracted a host of trade buyers and ultimately drove a successful sales exit.

 

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

As a technology leader, I believe it is crucial to keep learning about business. I have worked with many charismatic and inspirational CEOs, in particular Mark Bates at LBM and Stephen Parker at Trinity Mirror, who both taught me so much. Ultimately though it is my wife I turn to most when I need inspiration or advice – she’s like Yoda (only better looking).

 

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

It has been a challenging year for the tech consultancy and outsource sector. Discretionary spend certainly slowed down because of the political and economic uncertainty, sales cycles elongated, and projects appeared to stall in the lead up to the election. However, investment in tech companies continued at pace with new and innovative venture capital vehicles springing up to support the vibrant UK tech sector.

 

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

I expect 2020 to be the most interesting year yet for the data industry, with the last 12 months being focused on education and laying the groundwork about how data and AI can support and transform business.

 

I fully expect budgets to include far more data project provision than ever before with the DSaaS and AI outsource community particularly benefitting from an increase in data budgets. The “black art” of AI has broadly now been demystified with associated costs reducing for historically expensive and time consuming AI projects. AI is now far more accessible with business benefits easier to understand.

 

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

Far from AI replacing jobs, a new data economy is emerging with analytics, cloud computing expertise and software integration driving a UK tech sector with unparalleled growth opportunity.

 

AI is inextricably linked to big data and has already changed the way society behaves. Narrow AI in the consumer world has become common place – driven by our purchasing habits. I expect advances in medicine, healthcare and biotech through AI to support societal benefits far more over the next year and beyond.

 

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

Tech is no longer the challenge. Cloud computing, access to data science graduates and open source reusable algorithms have democratised AI, machine learning and data science.

 

Placing data strategy at the heart of a management agenda is still rare. GDPR and data governance best practice has raised the profile of data, but we are still some way off from data being a common place management discussion. From an investment perspective – be that VC or PE – we are most excited when we see a business that uses data to infer every decision it makes, typically raising the enterprise value of that company significantly.

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