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Davin Crowley-Sweet, chief data officer, Highways England

David Crowley-Sweet

Path to power

I actually started my career 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 clueless on what to do next. A 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 generation.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Coaching and mentoring; I feel most proud when I’ve been able to make a few people smile, give some hope when people felt lost and was able to put a little more compassion into the universe.

 

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

I don’t think there is a person I’ve met who I haven’t learnt something significant from. Most recently I’ve become a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius and his book Meditations. Whenever I feel the rage to reply to an email or I am being crushed with the weight of responsibility, I read Chapter One of The Mediations to calm myself down and get some perspective. A huge amount of forgotten wisdom in that book.

 

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

It turned out better than I had expected. In 2018, the crew of “data ninjas” I’m privileged to work with set out a powerful case for change and a compelling strategy about how we can use data to connect our country.

 

In 2019 our aim was to grow our data leadership team and get stuck in with some delivery. We did just that and were able to hire some of the biggest talents in the business.

 

I have to say the data ninjas smashed it once again, from financial valuations of our data as a corporate asset, transforming how we provide traffic data to customers and human centered data governance initiatives, to beefing up our cyber security and getting our data plumbing foundations sorted.

 

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

Have we run out of buzzwords yet? It’s nice to see a resurgence of data governance back at the top table. I think 2020 will see more of that and also a more broadly recognised view that data governance is not an IT solution. Data governance is all about how leaders can create the environment where people can succeed.

 

I also think we will see more companies taking the notion of data on the balance sheet much more seriously than they do today. I would like to think we will see a lot more “data is the asset”.

 

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

The ability for our society to have access to fit for purpose information about the important issues we face so we can make decisions confidently. Most of us make decisions based upon the assumptions we hold or the experience we have, these are all subjective. Democratised data gives an objective view, helping us feel more certain and confident in the choices we make. I think that’s an important component of a happy society.

 

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

To steal ideas from Visual Meaning’s Steve Whitla, I think our biggest challenge is how we create a shared meaning between customers, supply chain partners and ourselves that describe what we want to achieve and why it matters. Digital transformation is not about tech, it’s about change. Tech, data, culture are just some of the many variables that require change to deliver the desired outcomes. We feel that a shared meaning is what links all the things together and where we are going to focus in 2020.

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