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Davin Crowley-Sweet, Chief data officer, Highways England

Path to power

 

My life actually started as a professional guitarist in a heavy metal band. A shady manager and some angry associates resulted in us losing our record deal and leaving me pretty clueless on what to do next. A dear friend of mine offered me a home on the railway and I worked my way up through the sector from helping migrate data as part of an insourcing initiative to be being the professional head of GB Mainlines railway system-related data. In 2017, I swapped rail for roads and became Highways England’s first chief data officer at the beginning of the largest investments in roads in a lifetime.

 

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

 

Without a doubt, it’s about coaching and mentoring data professionals and seeing the smile on their face when they achieve something they never thought possible. I’ve been really fortunate to work on some of the world’s largest data transformation programmes and it’s an experience that I’ll never forget. But it’s nothing compared to getting a letter or an email from someone you’ve helped saying they have found their career home are really happy.

 

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

 

Worry less. Do more. Cut yourself some slack, be yourself and don’t let those negative assumptions sneak in and hold you back.

 

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

 

It’s my first year with Highways England and I expected I would have delivered a lot faster than I have. However, I think some of the delays my team has experienced have really bonded us together and we are much further down the road in terms of our team’s performance than I thought we would be. I’m very lucky to lead a group of serious data ninjas!

 

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

 

It’s going to be a challenging, but fun year for the CDO. There have been some big expectations put on the CDO and the hype and glamour around the role will add to the strain. I think that 2018 saw the CDO firmly cemented into the senior corporate structure. This will be the year where the eyes are on hard cashable benefits the CDO’s promise. The ball is certainly in our court.

 

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

 

Set a grand vision. Foster the right culture. Trust your teams and give them the accountability and authority they need to be successful. Focus on behaviours and people will learn the skills. Give teams the room to breathe. Nothing kills talent more than leaders micromanaging operational noise.

 

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

 

So much of the data world today is about efficiency and effectiveness. In these types of problems, data is just another tool in the box. Boring. Climate change, long-term social value and responsible capitalism are inevitable and are challenging if organisations are not doing the right thing to begin with. Defining organisational purpose in a very different world is where data becomes a game-changer and where I think we will see its true value.

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