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Ross Simson, Head of data factory, Thames Water

Path to power

 

 Like many people in data today, I fell into it. After leaving Edinburgh University with a Geography degree, I joined P&G in the graduate scheme and started selling Vortex bleach and Ariel Soap powder to cash-and-carrys all over Scotland. 
After various moves, I “graduated” to selling Pampers Nappies and Always sanitary towels to Tesco. Oh, the highlife…On to managing teams selling batteries and torches at Energizer and thence to Accenture, where we helped set up a new thing called CRM in Europe (shows my age). 
From sales and marketing to processing coupons as commercial director at NCH Marketing and there the love of data started. We ran loyalty schemes for ToysRUs, Dunnes Stores, Do it All, to name but a few.
The last ten years have been fascinating - Birmingham City Council, Lebara, BBC TV Licensing, British Gas, npower, Severn Trent, Ordnance Survey and Sainsbury’s/Argos/Habitat. Customer insight, service development and MI - knee-deep in data and loving it. I am now in the middle of a huge transformation at Thames Water to convert data to information to insight to action.

 

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

 

Too hard to say! Working with so many great people and seeing them flourish and progress over time.

 

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

 

 Find a great mentor sooner. I have been lucky enough to work with some truly inspirational people who have helped guide me over time.

 

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

 

Yes and no. Working at Sainsbury’s and getting ready for GDPR working with such a great team did work out as we planned. I did not, however, expect to join Thames Water and start a truly transformational journey on data. Having strong executive backing has been really important. But having the “Beast from the East” hit us and then a really dry summer has made me focus on ensuring we provide accurate information to our colleagues so we make the right decision to keep London and the Thames Valley supplied with great, clean water.

 

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

 

It is going to be an uncertain year. Brexit is having a huge impact on confidence and this is going to make it really hard for people to recruit as people are less likely to jump from their existing jobs. However, those organisations who have a clear plan, funds agreed to spend on data and information, and who deliver against their promises should weather the storm well.

 

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

 

We are working with a number of organisations to go directly to the market and recruit really strong graduates. We are going to be recruiting a lot of people over the next couple of years into Thames Water to ensure we create the right data foundations, so we need to offer a clear reason why people should join a great company that is committed to invest its people, give them interesting work to do and reward them for doing so.

 

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

 

It’s a great time to be in data. It’s what businesses run on and the pace of change in technology is opening new frontiers every day. Using automation and machine learning, coupled with really insightful analysis based on trusted information, has to be the way forward and data is an idea whose time has come.

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