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J Cromack, Chief technology officer, MyLife Digital

Path to power

 

I worked for Option One, a marketing services agency in the early 90s, on accounts like Orange and UCI Cinemas, before setting up my own business which provided production and data services to a number of clients, including OneTel and Virgin Mobile. I was also involved in a dot.com startup called TripleArc that acquired my business in 2000. We floated TripleArc on the stock market in 2001, making me one of the youngest CEOs on the London Stock Exchange. Following a successful sale of TripleArc Plc, I joined Lateral Group as CEO. Lateral owned DataLateral and this completely reignited my data passion. We later sold Lateral Group to a financial services business called DST Systems, a mutual fund record-keeping business, and I was a member of the leadership team that established a big data division in Kansas City called DST Applied Analytics. This helped DST’s clients to extract value from many years’ worth of data held on old mainframe systems using the then-new data science and machine learning techniques. Reading a book on holiday in 2014 called “The Circle” by Dave Eggers, I became obsessed with how companies were collecting data on individuals and how strong governance was needed to ensure the collection and use of this data was transparent and citizens should be empowered to control how organisations use their personal data. On leaving DST, I joined a team of fellow data geeks in Bath and we co-founded MyLife Digital. It rebalances the trust in personal data between an organisation and the citizens it serves and connects individuals with their data.

 

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

 

Helping my fellow directors launch MyLife Digital for what at the time was a crazy idea…“Hey, Mr/Mrs Client, you don’t own the data, your customer does…you’re just temporarily licensing it off them!”. And watching this start to become fairly mainstream through GDPR. Along the way, we have also acquired two great data businesses including Wood for Trees, a data analytics business in the charity sector, and an elite sports performance analysis business called Insight which provides data-driven performance optimisation for organisations, including England Rugby, the Lawn Tennis Association and Bath Rugby among others. This has allowed me to combine three passions in my life - sport, data and Bath Rugby!

 

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

 

Don’t take yourself too seriously, be confident, respect data as if it is someone’s personal cash and read a lot more as the speed of change and new technologies will constantly surprise!Not really. Large brands really didn’t prepare as well as I thought they would for GDPR. They spent so much time just trying to work out what data they had and for what purpose that they then had little time to ensure they had the correct permissions in place to use the data, which has led many organisations to have reduced marketable databases. Too many minimum viable products that really didn’t have the audit capability or granularity requirements needed under GDPR have led to this reduction in usable data or products in the market that didn’t address this properly.

 

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

 

Massive change for adtech as the regulators start to understand how the eco-system works and the data sharing between many good, but also many bad actors and the negative consequences that could happen. Consumers are certainly becoming more aware of their rights and, while I think many of the marketing messages of these vendors have dropped GDPR, the words “data trust” will be used more and more frequently. The lack of transparency in the adtech and martech worlds will lead to some interesting regulatory challenges and new innovations.

 

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

 

This year, we have a focus on talent development. We have recently recruited a chief people officer and we will be extending our work and strategic partnerships with universities to identify talent early. As I mentioned earlier, new technologies are entering the market, so we quickly need to ensure we re-skill our teams to adapt.

 

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

 

Data trusts and using data for societal gain, especially in the health sector. I’m very excited about the potential of personal data stores and what it could mean to the digitisation of the health and social care services. With Matt Hancock now as Secretary of State for Health, I think we are about finally to see the right cultural shift within the NHS to enable this to happen.Data and analytics technology/service provider

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