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Thomas Lee-Warren, Chief technology officer, R2 Data Labs, Rolls-Royce

Path to power

 

Lee-Warren is challenging the status quo, via teams that mash together the innovation and drive of start-ups with the discipline and organisation of large corporates. His career spans retail, grocery, aerospace, government, engineering, logistics, building consortiums and finance. He has been at the cutting-edge of building mobile, data and advanced analytics capabilities for leading global brands as well as running his own maturing start-ups. He continues to be an active participant in the lean start-up community and the next wave of business leaders through his mentoring of female entrepreneurs at the Said Business School, Oxford University Ascent Programme.  He initially studied philosophy and theology before turning his hand to computer science. He has re-imagined business products and services, transformed business through agile and devops techniques, run/sold his own mature start-ups, led the digitisation and creation of new data businesses at Marks & Spencers, the UK rail network and the UK parcel and postal service, and is now playing a leading role in data innovation, artificial intelligence, and a digital-first mindset at Rolls-Royce. He is excited by the opportunity to deliver next generation thinking through deep learning, data engineering and wow visualisations. His groups have been recognised for innovation and industry-leading products. Lee-Warren is a constant learner and has a tireless energy for the new, collaborating with colleagues (both in and outside the corporate boundary) to re-imagine the way people interact and deliver services. He is motivated by the promise of artificial intelligence and RPA and believes we are entering the most exciting of times where opportunities to change the way we live and work irrevocably abound.   In addition to his pursuit of all things data, he is a keen skier, can’t get enough coffee, has nine siblings, and has an active involvement with charities, most recently raising over £70,000 for a colleague who required prosthetics due to a sudden and near-fatal illness. 

 

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

 

There is nothing like running your own business, the trials and tribulations as you work with colleagues to change the world. The experience of setting-up, running and selling my own businesses has paid untold dividends as I now guide large global corporates. But I would have to say I am really loving it at Rolls-Royce, an iconic organisation that is recognised for its unparalleled ability to build some of the most complicated machines on the planet. Rolls-Royce is inhabited by energetic thought-leaders with exemplary skills in data, AI and engineering and yet the organisation has the confidence to seek out start-ups, academics and individuals outside of the company to break new ground. I was immediately attracted by this spirit of innovation that was coupled with a relentless desire to see its ideas delivered and used, whether after-sales services to support our power-by-the-hour, quieter and more fuel efficient engines or leading the charge on autonomous shipping.

 

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

 

Be a constant learner.

 

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

 

Talent, AI and data have been at the heart of business transformation - in particular, AI is as profound for the human race as the internet. It has been a primary focus for 2018 and will continue to be as we reimagine all of our products and service.

 

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

 

Many organisations will experience the next AI winter where expectations will be unmet. IOT programmes have a 70% failure to meet organisational needs and I believe the same will happen for AI without proper and skilled leadership.

 

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

 

We are currently expanding our global AI hubs which will act as high caliber AI and data teams to drive our innovation.

 

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

 

Its ability to transform our design, manufacturing and after-sales services. There is a clear and unified voice that our ability to design in a digital manner before we tip over into the physical world will be an increasingly competitive differentiator for us. This digital mindset, coupled with the ramped-up pursuit of AI as a force-multiplier, places R2 Data Labs at the core of just about all major initiatives across our businesses.

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