Est. Reading: 6 minutes
06/24

Data Leadership Series: Peter Jackson, the Godfather of Data Strategy?

Director, Data & Analytics
Director, Data & Analytics
Karl Ramsaran serves as the Director of Data and Analytics, specialising as a mid to senior-level expert in Data and Technology. With a comprehensive international remit, he leads a team dedicated to transforming hiring practices strategically and consultatively. Karl’s expertise focuses on enhancing company growth through specialised recruitment from mid-level roles up to the CEO, with salary ranges between £100,000 to £750,000. Working with a diverse client base, he provides tailored services that ensure the placement of pivotal roles that drive organisational success and innovation.

Peter Jackson is a rare commodity in the world of data leadership, boasting decades of invaluable experience at the helm of data operations for some of the largest companies in the UK. Despite his hectic schedule, he graciously agreed to spare half an hour for an online meeting with us. As he appeared on screen, it was evident that he commanded respect and authority, seated in a lavish boardroom surrounded by about 12 chairs and a sizable wooden table. He operated the camera above to flawlessly capture his presence, zooming in to provide a perfect view as he engaged with us with remarkable clarity and precision.

Peter is a true multitasker, currently juggling three significant roles. He serves as the Chief Data and Technology Officer at Outra, a 100-person strong data provider with insights on 30 million UK households. Additionally, Peter is a co-founder at Carruthers and Jackson. Not one to rest, Peter also dedicates his time to educating future data leaders as a Tutor/Course leader at the Carruthers and Jackson Data Leaders Summer School. With such diverse responsibilities, Peter’s expertise spans various domains, making him a perfect candidate to interview in our Data Leadership Series.

You’ve been in the data world for some time now, what are the biggest differences between when you just first started out in your career?

When reflecting on the early days, which started back in the ’80s, it’s remarkable to see how much has changed. Back in those days, the role of Chief Data Officer didn’t exist, and data operations were a far cry from what they are today. Everything revolved around digital transformation, and to start with my career largely revolved around advanced web development. Working with cookies and SQL databases felt like cutting-edge work at the time. As technology progressed, we transitioned to NoSQL databases and explored the amazing new tools which were flooding onto the market tools like Alteryx, Snowflake, Exasol, and Thoughtspot to name a tiny few. Despite these advancements, the core remained digital-focused until around ten years ago.

You’ve co-authored four books on data strategy; what motivated you to delve into the realm of publishing?

Back in 2017 when I was working at Southern Water, I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline Carruthers, and as fate would have it, we were both navigating data-driven leadership roles. It was during our discussions that we stumbled upon the notion that no blueprint, guide, or even Idiots Guide to… existed for Chief Data Officers. We found it quite perplexing that in a realm where guides existed for almost everything, the domain of data strategy seemed to be uncharted territory. It sparked our curiosity and set us on a path to explore this untouched space and co-authored The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, which remains today a number #1 Seller on Amazon.

With that book, our aim was to reach a specific group – our tribe, if you will. We wanted to provide a blueprint for individuals in similar roles to ours, offering guidance on establishing a solid foundation for data literacy, data maturity, and data operations to enhance customer value.

However, we soon realised there was another audience that needed our help – executive teams and leaders in large companies. We recognised the importance of educating them on the significant impact data strategy can have on organisations and how they can integrate it into their overall business strategy. That led us to write and publish our second book; Data-Driven Business Transformation two years later in 2019.  

What would you say is the key theme or message in your books?

You’ll have to read them! But on a serious note, if an organisation is to develop a data strategy, it must ensure that it aligns seamlessly with the overarching business strategy. It cannot solely revolve around whimsical desires like adopting the latest technology or creating flashy reports. A well-thought-out data strategy should encompass a comprehensive discussion on various facets of data, making clear its significance, its role in enhancing customer value, and the inherent opportunities it presents. 

In addition, it’s imperative that the data strategy be harmonised with a decisive data literacy plan – education for employees on the value of data and how it impacts their working lives. Without this drive for adoption, many data projects fail in their infancy.

What challenges have you encountered in transforming data practices within organisations, and how did you navigate them for success?

Navigating a literal shit storm

There are always opportunities in data that are capable of yielding substantial impacts on both the top and bottom lines. Drawing on my tenure at Southern Water, a significant challenge presented itself concerning sewage blockages (fat bergs) a predicament causing the dire consequences of sewerage bursts. The repercussions of such incidents were dire, covering streets with unsanitary sewage spills, not to mention the exorbitant costs incurred in rectifying these issues. In response to this pressing concern, a meticulous analysis of data was imperative. By scrutinising hundreds of data points, we could pinpoint four specific factors that align to make these incidents more likely to occur in specific locations. 

The first cause stemmed from a heightened population of younger individuals, as this demographic tended to dispose of nappies and non-degradable wipes by flushing them down toilets. Furthermore, a substantial number of fast-food establishments within the vicinity contributed to the issue by discarding fat down sinks or directing it outdoors into street drains. Notably, these incidents predominantly occurred within brick-constructed Victoria sewers. And finally, areas with abundant tree populations significantly impacted such occurrences. With this data we could accurately predict exactly where occurrences were most likely to occur, the only trouble was, we didn’t know when it would happen. The huge benefit however was we could spend around 80% less on blockage sensors because we didn’t need to cover the entire network. This resulted in millions of pounds of savings.

Pinpointing pension threats against a backdrop of Media Hype

Back when I was working at The Pensions Regulator, our focus was on analysing substantial risks associated with pension defaults against the backdrop of high-profile events like the Philip Green saga and the notorious BHS pension scandal. Delving into a vast pool of approximately 45,000 data points spread across hundreds of pension schemes was imperative to pinpoint the root causes behind these defaults and strategically channel our efforts to resolve the threat.

Leveraging state-of-the-art machine learning methodologies, our team expeditiously identified that the predominant factor leading to pensions defaulting was the absence or malfunction of trustee e-mail addresses. Despite its seemingly straightforward nature, this critical insight was obscured within a vast expanse of data, akin to locating a needle in a haystack. Armed with this newfound knowledge, the team could operate with distinct focus and speed to address the issue.

Mapping rich data on the entirety of UK Households

Our mission at Outra is to map specific data across the 30  million households in the UK. The sheer volume of data involved is staggering. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies like image recognition has revolutionised our approach, enabling us to transform public listings into structured data. For instance, by analysing platforms like Right Move, we can identify nuances in the residential property ecosystem and make predictions about the future.

We employ cutting-edge machine learning techniques to forecast missing data utilising artificial intelligence. In instances where specific house prices or property layouts are unavailable for listings in the UK, we leverage AI algorithms to infer these values based on comprehensive data collected from neighbouring households. Our predictive capabilities extend beyond conventional applications, enabling us to anticipate unprecedented insights such as when properties are likely to enter the market. We are using Snowflake’s latest technology, and we were the first to adopt it in the UK. Our commitment to data accuracy surpasses industry standards, positioning us ahead of competitors like Experian and Equifax in delivering superior retail and market insights.

What specific skills and competencies do you believe are most essential for data professionals today to thrive in the rapidly evolving landscape of data?

I would offer the same fundamental advice that underscores any successful data strategy: ensuring its complete alignment with the overarching business objectives. Beyond this, I consistently advocate peer-to-peer networking as a valuable avenue for growth and learning within the field. The opportunity to engage with other data officers, sharing insights and experiences, can be an invaluable source of knowledge. Additionally, I would strongly recommend taking advantage of educational programs such as our upcoming Caruthers & Jackson Data Leaders Summer School. This completely free 10-week program commencing on June 27th and concluding on August 29th offers weekly 90-minute sessions aimed at enhancing your understanding and skills in the realm of data management.

Conclusion

The insights Peter shared demonstrated his passion for innovation and strategic thinking. His stories of leveraging data to solve critical challenges at Southern Water and The Pensions Regulator underscore the transformative power of insightful data analysis. Moreover, his current endeavours at Outra demonstrate a commitment to pushing the boundaries of data to unlock unprecedented insights. Peter’s journey epitomises the essence of effective data leadership – a blend of vision, innovation, and strategic alignment driving tangible outcomes in the ever-evolving landscape of data and AI.

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