Path to power

After studying Operational Research at University, I was very lucky to join a strategic analysis team at HBOS where I was given a free reign to find interesting things in customer data that could improve the business, and then present and sell them into the organisation. After a few years, I joined Jaywing, where there were fewer than ten people at that time. I was able to learn from an amazing mix of technical experts and hugely experienced business consultants. After leaving Jaywing, I spent some time working at a couple of digital start-ups before founding Aquila Insight in 2012 with Warwick Beresford-Jones.

Over the last six years, we have grown Aquila from just Warwick and myself to a team of over 100 brilliant data professionals. We are proud that some of the biggest brands in the world have chosen to work with us and we launched an analytical technology platform that the industry really respects. Along the way, we have won some amazing awards for our work, our workplace and our technology. In July 2017, our success resulted in the acquisition of Aquila by Merkle, the world’s leader in people-based marketing. Merkle and Aquila have very similar DNA and shared viewpoints on how data should be used. It feels like the perfect home for Aquila.

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

There have been many over the years, but nothing can compare to last year. I am sure that most people would think it would be the acquisition of Aquila by Merkle, but my career highlight came a few weeks before that. To start a company with the belief that you could create an environment where analysts and data engineers would want to work is one thing, but to have the industry endorse it was incredible. So my highlight has to be Aquila winning the Data IQ Talent Award 2017 for the Best Place to work in Data.

What do you expect 2018 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

I expect it to be a little chaotic, challenging and, probably, a little frustrating. I don’t believe that everyone in this industry really understands the impact that GDPR is going to have and it will take a while before the full impact is realised. As data professionals, we will be asking questions of ourselves more than we ever have. Should I do that? Can I do that? I was able to do that before, why not now?

There will be a number of unintended consequences, too, which will only come to light as we work through this new world. Lastly, I think we will be challenged more by our stakeholders as they strive to get to the cutting edge of what’s possible with data. Couldn’t we use machine learning here? What are we doing with AI? These are questions that we are already being asked more often nowadays.

So – why did you choose data?

I have always loved maths and using it to solve problems, so after University, I was looking for something which would allow me to continue doing that. Back then, there weren’t as many options as there are today and I almost ended up selling software for a career. So I am glad that I dodged that bullet. It wasn’t until I was getting my teeth into data analysis at HBOS that I knew that I had found a career that I would love.

What is the best thing about working in the data industry?

I feel very lucky to work in an industry where we can be truly transformational. A great bit of analytics can completely change a sports team’s strategy, a customer’s experience or improve companies’ profits. It’s also a very open and collaborative industry.

If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?

My wish for our industry is that a data career would lead to the boardroom as often as accountancy careers do. We need more leaders at the top of organisations that are true data professionals. We have started to see a few, but we need many more and we need these leaders to be inspirational which will encourage more talent to enter the industry. For that to happen, we need data professionals to become more rounded in their understanding of the wider organisation and a bit more commercial in their approach.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of a career in this sector?

The last five years has been the most exciting, changeable and challenging for our industry and I don’t see that changing soon. If you love learning new things, never having a comfort zone and being able to see the impact of your work, then data is for you. Not many people get to work in a world like this and you will genuinely make friends for life.

Full interview by DataIQ here.

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