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Joe Nathan, vice-president of data, Electrocomponents

Joe Nathan

Path to power

I graduated with a statistics and economics degree with no real view of what I wanted to do in life. Before I could explore my options, I landed a fixed one-year role working as a statistician in the civil service.

 

Hungry for a more fast-paced environment, I moved into financial services and reinsurance, building all kinds of models, most notably one that drives the quotes for car and household insurance to this day. Apologies to those who get high quotes.

 

Then, nearly four years later, a dream data analyst job at The Economist surfaced - a magazine I religiously read at university and still to this day. That may explain why I stayed there for 14 years, doing everything data could offer - data science, reporting, campaigning, engineering, data quality, governance, strategy.

 

Then, in 2014, I jumped at an opportunity to join Andy Day at News UK, building a new department of data talent, with my role specifically around data management. I’m proud to have built a world-class team and my achievements there.

 

In 2017, I moved to Electrocomponents, leading the charge on transforming the business to be data-driven and to exploit data. Again, proud of the world-class team we have here.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Being able to make a real difference (on the data agenda) in each of my last three roles, and on the way, I am privileged to have built and nurtured some seriously talented and high performing teams.

 

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

Weirdly, I look to my three boys to fuel my inspiration these days. Having struggled to explain to them what working in data meant, I used a Lego analogy years back – think of data like Lego – it’s sometimes a mess, but collect and organise all the bricks and pieces neatly, so you can create something quickly and really valuable like a police car. Come to think of it, that might explain why I day-dream a lot …

 

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

Pretty much - I expected a couple of big GDPR related fines and was hoping for some medical breakthroughs so I was excited to hear about Google AI for breast cancer detection beating the doctors (although you can argue this was announced first week of 2020).

 

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

I have three predictions:

 

- I think consumer cybersecurity for IoT devices may surface. We’re getting more and more connected at home, but the level of security awareness or etiquette isn’t high;

 

- I reckon some wiz will crack a number one selling song totally built from data (like a House of Cards);

 

- Privacy laws on facial recognition and the ethics behind it will become a hot topic.

 

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

In one word – innovation. Add people and process and you have an incredibly powerful recipe for corporations to leverage, in some cases for their future sustainability and in others for new innovative revenue streams. In the medical field, I really hope data and tech can fuel some real breakthroughs. In the consumer world, driverless vehicles, drone parcel delivery, wireless charging or the next paper-like iPad... to make our experiences seamless.

 

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

We hear about ‘data by design’ a lot. When bringing in a new tool/tech platform, make sure to think about how you organise and structure your data from the onset, the security elements (security by design) and privacy compliance (privacy by design). No magic tool or platform on their own will solve your problems. Then once you’ve cracked that, focus on the adoption and use of the tool. This is all a cultural challenge that is part of a digital transformation, so make sure to bring everyone on the journey.

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