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Paul Lodge, Chief data officer, Department for Work and Pensions

Path to power

 

My career has always been focused on the use of evidence-based decision-making, from my early career developing operational analysis in the Army which led to my first civilian role using statistical process control in the insurance services sector. This enabled me to develop my technical data and analysis skills in preparation for a move to Accenture which provided the opportunity to develop a really deep technical skillset. During my eight years at Accenture, I worked up through the development of database schemas for SAP materials management to the cleansing and migration of over 60 million unique taxpayer records at HMRC as part of the modernising PAYE processing for customers programme. During this time, I was also able to undertake more experimental data and analytics work in the medical imaging sector which allowed us to identify the root causes of relatively high cancer mortality rates in Brazil. In 2012, I moved on from Accenture into increasingly sophisticated data programmes at Detica and the Home Office during which time I was responsible for developing social media analytics, biometric analysis and more traditional data warehouse design and build. This led to a fascinating opportunity at the National Crime Agency to build the data and analytics capability required to implement the National Cyber Security Programme. In March 2017, I was fortunate to be appointed as chief data officer for the Department for Work and Pensions. The scope of this role is awesome - I have a team of 550 data engineers, data managers, data scientists, statisticians and software developers who are responsible for one of the largest data warehouses in Europe and for ensuring that we are able to support over 22 million UK citizens in times of need. The consistent theme throughout my career to date has been the use of data and evidence to create insight in support of UK citizens, something that I am very proud of.

 

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

 

The highlight of my career continues to be my work at DWP. I am now in my second year here and the pace of change in data and analytics across the Department and wider Government is accelerating. Our role is at the heart of helping people who need some support during the most complex and stressful periods in their lives. This gives the whole team a huge sense of purpose in order that the right support is delivered to the right people at the right time. Our deployment of analytics and visualisation platforms onto a completely new hybrid cloud infrastructure last year has enabled us to exploit cloud analytics and develop analytics and visualisation platforms that the Department has not previously had access to. This has dramatically improved our situational awareness as a business, has improved our ability to counter fraud and the cyber threat, and has enabled us to develop reliable real-time models of UK labour and skills markets by blending Government and open-source data. Working with other Government Departments and partners, we using huge datasets to understand better the citizens that need our services in order to be able to tailor our support more appropriately to individual needs, and in a more efficient and effective manner. Finally, we support a range of wider-Government data needs from assisting with delivering support to those affected by Windrush, to Scottish devolution and preparation for EU exit. This has been the most challenging and rewarding role to date.

 

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

 

This industry is all about people. Make the time to understand the people you are trying to help. The best uses of data are those that really understand the situation of the service user and their needs. This is something that I was fortunate to learn through operational analysis work in my early career, but it is as true now as it was then. As a result, I have made the effort to work in Job Centres and our Service Centres, and go out with our teams who visit claimants in their homes in order that we maintain proximity to where the impact is delivered. Secondly, don’t forget the basics. The ability to do creative things with good data relies on solid engineering, good data management and exceptional security. If you get the foundations right, then this is a career that will change peoples’ lives for the better.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

The advent of GDPR in May was a hugely helpful event as it created a renewed focus on data transparency and openness which has helped us to understand and streamline our data flows, and generate greater levels of trust with our service users. Unexpectedly, it has also caused us to reconsider some of our operating models, particularly the relationships between the CDO, DPO and CSO, which has been very positive. As a result of the work we put in last year on a citizen-focused data strategy, we have seen a much greater level of understanding across DWP and wider Government around the potential impact that data and analytics can deliver to the people we support. As a result, we are now using the tools we proved during 2018 to generate greater customer intimacy, reduce the administrative burden on citizens, and improve outcomes for society. Our greatest challenge this year will be to sustain our momentum and deliver on continually heightened expectation.

 

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

 

I expect the focus on transparency and the data value proposition with the citizen to continue to increase during 2019, and this will place greater expectations around trust, stewardship and ethical use on the industry. As a result of some of the examples of data misuse that surfaced during 2018, organisations will need to place a much greater emphasis on demonstrating data transparency in order that service users can be assured that we are only using the minimum, necessary data required to deliver new products and services, and that we are storing that data responsibly. This should provide a huge stimulus to the industry as it will challenge development teams to truly understand the data value proposition around each product and service and force them to embrace a minimalist approach to data. In turn, this should empower service users through knowing how, when and why their data is being used. This is a really exciting opportunity.

 

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

 

This is a huge challenge, especially for the public sector when you cannot really compete on salary, particularly in the South East. As a result, we are tackling this challenge across five themes. 1) Our mission is unique and touches practically every citizen in the UK at some point in their lives. Knowing that members of your family or your friends are using our services at stressful times in their lives makes this personal and important, and it draws really dedicated people in. 2) The technical challenge in DWP is huge - we have some of the largest and most sensitive datasets in the UK and we are using the most modern tools, techniques and architectures. This level of intellectual challenge is hard to find elsewhere and we recognise that people may want to join us in order to build their data profile. 3) Investing in our people is critical. We have a wealth of knowledge about citizen data and the wider social welfare system in the UK and we need to invest in that talent in order to grow our capabilities. As a result we have invested heavily in a practice model and will be formalising quarterly learning spikes this year. 4) In order to attract great people at early stages in their careers, we are creating new talent pipelines by reaching out to the university clusters in the North West, Yorkshire and the North East, working with centres of excellence such as the National Innovation Centre for Data to support PhD and MSc candidates, and working with schools and colleges on programmes such as Girls in STEM and Digital Apprenticeships. 5) Finally, we have found that showcasing our work through open events like Hack the North and DataJamNE creates a real excitement about what DWP is trying to do for local communities and wider society in the UK.

 

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

 

I am continually optimistic about the power of data and analytics to help individuals and society. In common with other Government departments, we are currently developing our thinking ahead of the next five year spending review and our ambition is to deliver better outcomes for citizens and better quality of service, while at the same time making a step change in the efficiency of DWP operations. All of which requires evidence and exceptional insight. We are excited by what lies ahead.

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