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Nick Whitfeld, partner, KPMG

Nick Whitfeld

Path to power

I started out as a manufacturing engineer, which I studied at university. This gave me a valuable insight into the intimate relationship between good data and good business process: they are perfectly symbiotic. Many of the challenges organisations face today when exploiting their data stem from a lack of discipline in how they create and maintain their data in the first place.

 

It was when I joined a data start-up 20 years ago that the true power of data became clear. By moving from a paper-based dispatch system, we could electronically dispatch engineers to fix, say, mobile masts or printers, and capture all of the associated data which in turn we used to improve efficiency. The performance improvements we were able to achieve were impressive.

 

Since that point I have been entirely focused on helping clients of all sizes improve how they both manage and exploit their data. This has given me the privilege of working on a wide range of projects covering master data management, data quality, data architecture, reporting, analytics, data operating models, data strategy and more. Honestly, no two days are the same, and I love it.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Those projects which have had the most transformational impact are those of which I am most proud. Three spring to mind: we built a mobile telco’s first mobile data solution in under three months; we built a new product portal for a large retailer which sorted out their product data and quietly removed process friction and “grit” throughout much of their business; we helped set up the central data office for a large oil and gas organisation, exploiting the vast breadth of data available to them and producing a wide range of fresh, new information products.

 

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

Without doubt my immediate team and, in particular, some of our younger team members. They bring incredible energy, positivity and creativity. As the power of data increasingly permeates our collective conscious, these are the people to whom I turn to help me bring data to life, and from whom I draw enormous motivation.

 

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

2019 was challenging, but in a positive way. The exploitation of data is one of the last remaining frontiers of opportunity left to many organisations and, while they are quickly switching on to this, they are also finding they are not always well equipped to exploit their data.

 

Consequently, we saw a rapid but sustained demand for our help. Often, just knowing where to start is the hardest part, so a lot of my time was, and is, spent thinking about how to “eat the elephant”, always trying to balance the need to deliver tangible improvement now, while laying foundations for the future.

 

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

I think it will be an incredible year! What started in 2019 has continued unabated into 2020. It remains the case that for many organisations having established data capabilities, led by CDOs, is still a novel idea. But that is changing incredibly quickly and my year will be taken up helping some of our top clients grow and develop their data capability, with a real focus on demonstrating genuine business value. I am seeing a hunger and determination across all of the industry sectors I work in to transform how data is exploited, with data sprinting up the top table agenda.

 

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

I see the ongoing evolution of cloud and native cloud technologies as the biggest opportunity. This will make it increasingly easy for us all to access the power of complex analytics to improve how we operate and deliver customer service. As the technology gets easier to implement, and more widely accessible, it will cease to consume so much management time and angst, and allow us instead to focus on the real source of value: asking the right questions, finding the answers and acting on them.

 

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

I see two threats: the battle for talent, and data ethics. On the first, we all compete in a small (but growing) pool of talented people. A lack of good people is acting as a brake on progress, but also results in missed expectations which can have damaging long-term consequences. The second threat is altogether more pernicious. We have already seen many high profile examples of inappropriate data usage, but I believe we are entering an era where the gathering, analysing and dissemination of commercial data will result in unintended consequences – we will need to be on our guard for this, and strive to tighten our ethical frameworks.

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