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Lisa Allen, head of data, Ordnance Survey

Lisa Allen

Path to power

My career into data isn’t very conventional. Today, I manage teams of experts in location data, ensuring our data meets the changing demands of our customers, but I trained as an environmental scientist. My first job was as an aquatic biologist – I realise now that’s all about data collection. It wasn’t long before I changed paths and was leading a team investigating environmental crime. This involved sharing data with the police. When I realised the data quality wasn’t as expected, I joined the head office data team to fix it. That was it, I was hooked into the data profession.

 

Since then, I’ve worked in many roles across data disciplines, including developing data strategies and frameworks to implement data governance across organisations, always challenging my teams to make data fun to engage the entire organisation.

 

I’ve worked on open data challenges and implemented GDPR. Over the years, I’ve seen many of the same data challenges across organisations, so I volunteered to become a committee member of DAMA UK to help nurture the data community of data professionals, sharing best practice and tackling common issues.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

My proudest achievement to date is being part of the team that released over 10,000 data-sets as open in one year. The Secretary of State for Defra at the time was Liz Trust. She challenged the Defra group to release 8,000 data-sets as open in one year. I led for the Environment Agency. Previously the EA had released less than 100 open data-sets. As part of the challenge, we released nearly 2,000. This collaboration across departments contributed to the UK becoming one of the highest-ranking countries in the world for the implementation and impact of open data.

 

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

I’d would say my previous chief data officer, Caroline Bellamy. Her passion for data is unending, along with her contagious energy and enthusiasm. This is coupled with a deep knowledge of the data industry. A true data professional and someone whose strategic vision for data is pushing the industry forward.

 

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

I was pleasantly surprised by the focus on data discoverability by both the private and public sector. Making data easy to find doesn’t always get the same publicity as data analytics and data science. But it is fundamental.

 

It was great to see Google Dataset Search developing. At the same time, in the public sector, we are working on guidance on how to publish data to enable it to be found. For example, using common standards and plain English. This should save lots of time for data scientists, allowing them to concentrate on what they do best.

 

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

I think we’ll see an increase in the need for our skills. For example, many companies are employing chief data officers. As data professionals, we’ll need to keep our skills current. Data covers many disciplines, from foundational like data governance, data modelling etc, to the growth areas of data mining and machine learning.

 

As data leaders, we need strategic oversight across data disciplines to maximise business value. I’ve recently qualified as a Certified Data Management Professional with DAMA International, the global data community. As an industry, we are seeing the rise of the data profession and continued professional development.

 

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

For me it’s how we can use data and technology to tackle the climate emergency; reducing carbon emissions and living a sustainable life. Data provides insight and understanding for businesses to make decisions and take action. From looking at their impact on the planet, to coming up with innovative ways to be more sustainable. At the same time technology is enabling many things from precision agriculture using satellites and sensors to grow crops using less resources. We have smarter homes using less energy. As an industry, this is our biggest opportunity to work together to stop climate change.

 

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

Technology and data are there to deliver business outcomes. There are many advancements in technology, with new tools, etc. It is easy to get carried away with the functionality of these tools, rather than staying grounded and focused on the business outcomes. These technologies offer faster access to more and more data, but any transformation introducing new technology, to do it right, can take longer and slow delivery. To ensure data stays at the heart of any digital transformation, it’s about focusing on the business outcomes and managing data in a way to deliver the outcomes effectively and efficiently.

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