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Mark Powell, head of data architecture, Heathrow Airport

Mark Powell

Path to power

I started my career on a graduate scheme at a transport consultancy, mainly working on projects modelling and monitoring traffic and public transport flows in and around London. This gave me an appreciation of the varied skills and work that goes into accurate data for decision making on a variety of scales.

 

After a few years, I moved to an operational performance analysis role at Heathrow and absolutely loved it - the direct contact with the operation, variety of stakeholders and the freedom I was given to go use data. From that I’ve developed and progressed through the organisation, getting increasingly involved and bringing a data perspective to a wider range of problems: forecasting, capacity modelling, situational awareness for operational colleagues, system resilience.

 

More recently I’ve been leading one of our operational functions, and discovered that in this world, at least, even when you step out of the data sphere, there is always a data angle to the question, and everything comes back to data (and data quality).

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

I’m most proud of the analysts, teams and leaders working for me who I’ve developed. It’s an incredible feeling to watch your people grow and become stronger, doing more and more awesome things with data. You know you have done a good job when the key to successfully delivering a project is to get your team involved, explain the vision, then get out of their way and watch as things take off.

 

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

Not quite answering the question, but I’ve been quite inspired by some of the ideas shared by Matthew Syed – the power of learning from failure and a growth mindset spring to mind, and these have helped me in establishing how I think and make choices in my life.

 

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

In many ways yes – I saw people getting on with using data and analytics, with real value being added, but without the fanfare about the technique being used. This shows that analytics is being accepted into everyday business and is no longer a showpiece event.

 

One thing I hadn’t expected was just how much analytics has been embraced by business as a whole - some of the most passionate and innovative users of data are not the data professionals and analysts, but people from other areas who have found it useful for achieving their aims so adopted data as a tool.

 

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

Parts of what are currently considered part of the data and analytics industry are going to become part of everyday business, and not viewed as a specialism. This means that those in the industry have a choice – keep doing what they are doing and accept this may mean moving into or merging with parallel functions – or find the next leap forward and innovate further to make more specialised use of data to add business value.

 

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

The power of putting information in people’s hands cannot be over-estimated. In everyday life, things like smart meters have made it much easier to track energy use and be in control in the moment. Applying a similar principle to front-line service roles will vastly change what they know and are able to do – empowering them to run a smoother, more efficient operation and offer a more personalised experience to customers at the same time.

 

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

Finding a way to matching the pace of technology-led data delivery with what the business expects. It’s said that “change is the only constant”, and nowadays every change comes with a need for a new data tool, or for new information and analytics to help define and drive the change itself. There is a real struggle balancing delivery of something sooner for a specific purpose and delivery of something which is robust to the future demands and will enable the meeting of as-yet unimagined requirements.

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