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Mark Hinds, Chief executive officer, Polymatica

Path to power

 

The turning point in my career was when I joined a small business (34 people) in London called dunnhumby in 1996. As an analyst on the Tesco account, I was tasked to help make sense of Clubcard data and to support Tesco as it used insight to strengthen its proposition for customers. During this role, I developed an essential skill - how to combine the science of data with the art of business. Insight will never replace great business instincts - what it does is help to inform better decision-making. The next step in my career was moving to the US to help Kroger use its data to transform its business. My five years in the US helped me to develop my international business skills - they also taught me that although the business context may change, the ability to transform companies through compelling data-based stories is universal. In late 2017, I joined Polymatica to help grow its business globally. This has been the perfect role to lead a new direction in customer data science - how to enable any company to be brilliant at understanding and actioning insight on its customers. We are working with some incredibly exciting businesses who have the real potential to be the disruptors of their respective sectors.

 

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

 

I had always wanted to work and live in the US, so my time with dunnhumby on Kroger was amazing. It was hugely energising to bring my skills in customer data science to the world’s largest market and to see how these skills and experience could break through any cultural barriers. I am also enthralled in my current role. It’s fascinating to be back at a pioneering company in its early phase of growth. Being in Polymatica reminds me of my early days in dunnhumby - realising a simple idea that has the ability to reshape the business world.

 

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

 

Always follow your instincts and do what you believe in. Sometimes this may feel like taking a massive risk or passing over a promotion. In the long-term, your heart will be a wonderful guide - following your passions is a path to achieving much more than simple financial returns.2018 was a year of massive change. It was the first full year in my current role and the beginning of Polymatica’s expansion into Europe. I started the year with a clear idea of where I thought the data industry would head and we used this knowledge to help shape our business strategy. I observed that most companies wanted data science to be a core competency, rather always rely solely on external agencies. I also knew that the people needed to analyse data in a commercial context are in huge demand and very hard for many companies to attract and retain. Finally, I had observed that the path to value from becoming customer data informed can be long, hard and frustrating for many companies. What was different to my initial expectations was who would be the early adopters of a new way of working. It wasn’t the traditional pioneers of data science, it was a new breed of companies who saw the opportunity to be the disruptors in their sectors.

 

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

 

These are clearly dynamic times and many companies face extreme pressures in their respective markets. I predict that the ones who will emerge successfully will have three attributes - a relentless focus on staying close to their customers, an ability to transform around these emerging needs, and a strong operational grip on their daily business. It’s clear that data plays a huge role in all three areas and the winners will be those companies that are best able to unlock the real potential of their data. Put simply, if you don’t have a clear data strategy and the supporting skills, 2019 and beyond could be very challenging.

 

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

 

We are fortunate in being relatively new to the market and have embraced modern ways of working from the beginning. In many ways though, these are rapidly becoming hygiene factors. For example, I recently heard that the Civil Service, an organisation which many would think of as being very traditional, has embraced flexible working from home in large parts of the organisation way beyond what is typical for almost all other companies. For us, getting great talent relies on having a proposition that people can believe in, clear and visible paths for great people to learn new skills rapidly and the ability for anyone to make a major difference to the company.

 

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

 

I believe that analytics will become a core competency for many more roles. We will see a transformation in the next two to three years similar to that which happened to many functions with the arrival of the spreadsheet. Technology is advancing so that many more owners of the business problems will be able to use data to answer the questions themselves rather than solely rely on their data science teams.Data and analytics technology/service provider

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