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Simon Hayter, head of data, Knight Frank

Simon Hayter

Path to power

I was doing data analytics before it was the “cool job” that it is today, when the only tools available were MS Excel and Access. Early on in my career I worked for various retailers and also for an online company, where I was performing analysis for the front line sales directors. This is where I learnt the importance of communication and turning data into something easily understandable. I then moved into finance, where I was responsible for budgeting and reporting. This experience was invaluable in having access to every part of the company and seeing how it all fitted together using numbers.

 

During this time, I was fortunate to have very supporting bosses who sponsored me to do an MBA that has really elevated my career. The completion of the MBA coincided with the breakthrough of data becoming an industry in its own right, allowing me to head up various data functions within financial services and property companies. I’m now responsible for creating and implementing the data strategy across Knight Frank, covering data management, analytics and data science, supporting both internal decisions and providing services to our clients.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

It’s hard to pinpoint one event over others. I think it is establishing myself within a relatively new industry and helping to develop new business models to incorporate new ways of working with data; seeing practices and ideas that I have developed come into fruition and still being used today. This ranges from introducing new operating models to taking new technologies from prototype to a full scale enterprise solution. Seeing how my team members have developed their own careers has been a great highlight.

 

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

There isn’t any single individual who I would say is a role model. I prefer to learn as much as I can from a variety of individuals from all walks of life. As I learn and develop more, the individuals I look to for inspiration change over time.

 

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

Pretty much. In some ways it was a pleasant surprise in how well received and supported the data strategy we are implementing in Knight Frank was. It is great to work for a company that embraces new ways of working while retaining their core strengths of high customer service and thought leadership within the industry. The support and engagement for the data community that we have created has been overwhelming, the success of any of these initiatives can only happen when they are supported by the wider business and non-technical roles, otherwise you are simply preaching to the converted.

 

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

I see 2020 being an exciting year for data. Over the last few years there has been a lot of hype and buzzwords which haven’t always been helpful. Although the buzzwords probably won’t go away any time soon, I think there is far more understanding in businesses of the potential of data and this focus will only increase. As technologies improve with the ability to scale out more efficiently, data capabilities will naturally increase.

 

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

Seeing the developments over the past few years has been eye-opening, especially as some of the breakthroughs have come from areas that were unexpected. Emergent companies have revolutionised some industries purely by improved use of technology and data. I really see the Internet of Things being leveraged to create the biggest opportunities, especially within travel and the creation of smart cities. It is this area, combining everyday objects with data, where the greatest opportunities and shifts in our behaviour will occur.

 

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

I would never want data to be at the heart of anything. For me it is the customer requirements that need to be at the heart of decisions. Data is simply identifying and tracking each part of the business and market conditions to bring all the information together and improve decision making. The biggest technology challenge I see is ensuring the right people are involved in the decision making with a full understanding of its limitations. Ensuring there are no separate business, data and technology strategies with separate decision making is the challenge.

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