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Simon Asplen-Taylor, chief data officer, Rank Group

Simon Asplen-Taylor

Path to power

I started my career designing and managing the development of databases and immediately took a business rather than a technical perspective to solving significant business problems. From those early days, I was introduced to the importance of the value of data, data quality and consistent definitions. When you work for an investment bank and start sharing your data with clients you must do it well.

 

I went on to hold senior roles in major companies, including Tesco, Bupa, Rackspace, Regus, Detica, IBM and Rank Group. I also consulted to Lloyds Bank, HSBC, Channel 4, the FSA, and others, on a variety of data matters. My focus now is defining the data strategy for businesses to enable them to maximise the value they get from their data.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

The proudest achievement was leading the design and implementation of the markets in financial instruments directive (MiFID) that increased the transparency across the European Union’s financial markets for the UK regulator. At the same time, I helped design and implement their data science and forensic capabilities. The challenges were the volumes and variety of real-time and historic data, the integration of complex tool sets, and changing the ways of working of an organisation. This work led to the first ever prosecution of insider dealing in the UK in 2009.

 

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

The person I look to for inspiration is Leonardo da Vinci. He is one of the most diversely talented individuals to have lived. He was creative and he explained what he understood through his drawings and writing. I find his many talents inspiring and at the same time very humbling.

 

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

It was more demanding than I expected and more varied. The variety came from delivering against the data strategy I wrote last year, being involved in pretty much every aspect of the business, working closely with the regulator, building out a team, delivering key insights, bringing in automation tools to improve efficiency, working to change the culture to be more data led, presenting at data events all round Europe, as well as mentoring a couple of people.

 

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

In the past five years the data industry has seen a lot of hype and attention which in turn has created more diverse job roles and products. I don’t expect this to slow down in 2020 but it is my hope and expectation that these will be consolidated into a more mature industry. The level of experience in these roles, specifically data science, will increase. The same will happen with products as I’d expect more consolidation in the software industry. There needs to be more focus on the business value that can be delivered by the roles and the tools.

 

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

The biggest change being driven by the data industry is transparency. Ensuring that stakeholders have better insights to the activities of businesses, not-for-profit organisations, government and society. Data, when captured properly, is a true record of what happened and can be used to reduce the chance of fraud and abuse and create opportunities for organisations and society to be more efficient and effective. It’s also an opportunity to make better fact-based decisions and less heuristic decision making, but this requires a significant cultural change across society.

 

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

Technology challenges are not the most difficult to fix, they are culture and skills. However, the biggest technical challenge is that of an integrated tool set aligned to support the data strategy. You can get individual tools to automate development, to do data discovery, to help govern your data, to manage your master data, to help improve your data quality, to get data more easily to your data scientists, to name a few. The big challenge is to integrate these tools, because that’s when you can deliver against your digital transformation strategy, in a fast and agile manner.

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