The brave new world of data explored at Information Age’s Data Summit

On the 18 May 2017, data leaders from across the UK and across a variety of industries descended on the Montcalm hotel in Marble Arch for Information Age’s annual Data Summit, sponsored by Dataiku, Darktrace, Practicus and XanaData. Data is now recognised, as the old adage goes, as the lifeblood of an organisation. It’s effective treatment, analysis and understanding is crucial in coordinating business strategies in order to improve efficiency and importantly, drive innovation in an increasingly disrupted global business environment.

This knowledge has gradually made its way to the boardroom, and the business leaders that occupy this level have finally accepted data’s fundamental role in moving business operations forward. This year, therefore, the Data Summit was of particular significance. More data is being produced than ever before. Today, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created a day – this is so much that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years.

>See also: The UK’s top 50 data leaders 2017

It comes from everywhere: internet-connected sensors enabled by the internet of things gather everything from climate to traffic information, while personalised data is gathered through social media sites, purchase transaction records and mobile phone GPS signal to name but a few. This data is big data.

New technological capabilities of analysing and gaining actionable insight from this data opens up a range of opportunities, possibilities and potential dangers. This is why summit’s like Information Age’s Data Summit will continue to grow in relevance as leadership strategy, data governance and protection are forced to evolve in order to cope with the brave new world of data.

Data Leadership

The Data Summit began with a leadership panel that comprised of Andrea Powell, Chief Information Officer at CABI, Olly Foot at McCann Worldgroup, Barry Panayi, Chief Data Officer at Amlin and Sue MacLure, Head of Data at PSONA. The main takeaway from this discussion focused on the importance of how data is used. In the right way, it can lead to major transformation across all departments.

One of the panels at the Data 50 Summit
One of the panels at the Data 50 Summit

This notion was championed by the ‘second act’ of the summit. Caroline Carruthers, ‎Chief Data Officer at Network Rail described data as ‘the art of the possible’. She told the audience they couldn’t underestimate the power of data, used in the right way. By the right way, she explained that the data strategy had to be linked to the overall business strategy. There is no point, she continued, in using ‘data for data’s sake’. It must be used to impact an organisation for the better.

>See also: Data 50 Awards 2017: winners revealed

Carruthers also explained, alluding back to using data in the right way, that simply hoarding data is pointless and detrimental to business. It is not how much you have, but how you use it that is transformative. Data, she continued, should be seen as a storytelling journey that helps a business’s strategy by addressing a business problem. Crucially, Carruthers concluded, technology doesn’t take care of data. It is a human responsibility to derive value from the 1s and 0s.

Data Governance and Data Protection

Gaining meaningful value from data is understandably the business priority, but ensuring data governance and data protection is just as important. Data governance is the management of data within an organisation, and this is coming under increased scrutiny from stricter data regulations, such as GDPR and PSD2. The massive acceleration of information means more stringent laws like these are necessary, explained Hany Choueiri, Head of Data Governance & Strategy EMEA at State Street in the next presentation at the Data Summit.

He suggested that what makes this space quite challenging is that ‘regulation trails innovation’. The use of AI and robotics, powered by data, has lead to what is called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The innovation has already happened – the step change in how data is used in line with new/emerging technologies – but governance is lagging behind.

>See also: 10 UK-based data entrepreneurs you should know about in 2017

This inevitably (and paradoxically), continued Choueiri, stifles the innovation. It means that the data within an organisation is often siloed, managed on a departmental level, rather than providing a complete enterprise view. Data is governed in this way, suggested Choueiri, because the boardroom is worried by the risk – of fully utilising data via analytics – posed by impending regulation like the GDPR.

The Data Panel that preceded Choueiri’s talk also elaborated on GDPR. The panelists explained that human error and legacy vulnerability, leading to a data breach, was the most likely scenario in which an organisation would face the increased fine of €20 million or 4% global turnover outlined in the impending regulation. Significantly, this issue of data protection is now a board and CEO responsibility under GDPR.

It is no longer the sole responsibility of the IT department, because data has become essential to an organisation’s core strategy. To ensure data protection, the panel concluded that finding the right people, raising data security daily and changing the workplace culture was essential in effectively protecting the influx of data.

>See also: 2017 world politics and the free flow of data

Data is everywhere and it is exploding. Most, if not all aspects of business are being impacted and it is fast becoming part of most employee’s jobs, generating new insight to create value, increase efficiency and drive innovation.

As explored at the Data Summit, these new horizons data presents must be appropriately governed and protected, because while data leads to significant opportunities, it can also create damaging risk if not managed correctly.


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...