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Democratisation of Big Data
By Peter Jackson, Chief Data Officer, Southern Water
We have all seen a change in the data storage and processing space with storage becoming less expensive, processing power greater and both being more available. These two combined have made 'big data' a possibility for a wider range of organisations. Additionally, the various growing number of 'platform' approaches to data analytics and data science and enterprise systems are now available to the smallest organisations. There has been a democratising of Big Data in this sense. However, the market is very noisy and busy with lots of new suppliers, both small and large, and with many more mature enterprise suppliers updating and expanding their offerings into the Big Data space. Certainly one of the challenges being faced is cutting through the noise and locating an appropriate fit or partner. The challenge may even be more difficult because the best solution maybe a blend of suppliers, fitting together best in breed. This in itself brings internal problems introducing new licensing and procurement models to internal procurement and finance teams. Finally, I think we are seeing a shift, as Big Data becomes more democratised and widely used, from 'Big Data' back to 'data', which is probably a good thing. Big Data in its self doesn't deliver value, it is the science and processes applied to it that deliver the insight.
2. Could you talk about your approach to identifying the right partnership/ solutions providers from the lot?
So to cut through the noise to find the right partnership / solution is very important. The starting point is to fully understand the context of where and how you are going to be using solutions. In simple terms, understanding the IT strategy and your internal constraints and capabilities. I rely on the knowledge, expertise and learning of my senior colleagues and on my peer group in the data world. There is a vast shared experience and expertise that is available and people are very willing to share. Staying abreast of data technology and advances is crucial through media, conferences, expos and supplier meetings.
The success of this to date has been building collaboration between technology suppliers, data providers and end users
3. Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful project/ initiatives that you're currently over seeing?
I am currently leading a cross Water sector initiative (The DataWell) to create a platform to share data across the sector, with regulators and to provide open data sets. This will lead, hopefully, to greater transparency of data, greater integrity and provide benefit to the sector. The success of this to date has been building collaboration between technology suppliers, data providers and end users. We have adopted three principles: open data, open infrastructure and open minds. The key players have been Google Cloud, Birst and Solidatus. We are at an early stage but there is growing momentum with more water companies coming onboard. Within Southern Water there are a range of data projects from real time dashboards, data lineage to predictive analytics which are improving our operational efficiency, providing cost savings and creating a platform for innovation across the business.
4. What are some of the points of discussion that go on in your leadership panel? What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?
Within my leadership team the biggest discussion points are how to manage the demand signal from business, the beneficial impacts of new approaches to data analytics and educating the business in the art of the possible. Our guiding principle is to hooking the data strategy into the business strategy and providing business value and beneficial business outcomes. The role of the Data Team is to make other parts of the business look good!
5. Can you draw an analogy between your personality traits, hobbies and how they reflect on your leadership strategy?
My personality insight assessment shows that I am strongly red, I was a competitive swimmer in my youth so I am strategic, highly driven, work hard and want to succeed. So yes this does come across into my leadership strategy. I am very fortunate to have a first class senior team who support me and their strengths compliment my strengths.
6. How do you see the evolution of the Big Data arena a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?
I think that big data, data science and predictive analytics could be quite transformational in the Water sector, and many other sectors. Smart Water Networks are an aspiration and models to manage both short term and long term water demand will be increasingly important and possibly disruptive. The game changer will be the application of machine learning and AI to water and wastewater management.
7. What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?
I would advise several things to anyone who wants to progress to be a Chief Data Officer: make sure that you are technically credible in data technology and data science, be strategic with the ability to deliver immediate business value at the same time, be able to understand business processes, develop your communication and storytelling skills and be capable of building relationships. Perhaps the single piece of advice, buy the Chief Data Officer's Playbook!