Move Over IT….Data is a "Business Responsibility": A C-level Perspective on Big Data

David Grant

Interview with David Grant, Chief Data Officer at Lloyds Bank

Data is there to facilitate businesses "doing something", says David Grant, Chief Data Officer at Lloyds bank. In this interview, Grant describes how businesses are learning to link data to business requirements, to manage it as an asset, and to understand how it drives value.

This interview was featured in PEX Network’s "Deriving Value from the Data Deluge" on how companies are adopting and implementing big data strategies. To download a full copy of the report, for free, please click here.

PEX Network: How have you defined and established the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) at Lloyds?

David Grant: Data is really important. There are lots of commercial opportunity and lots of regulatory focus. The consultants were telling us that all our competitors have CDOs, so we should have one too – which, to be honest, is not the best way of making that decision. It was then very much a blank sheet of paper as to what the role and remit of the CDO is.

For us, in the first couple of years it's just about getting our arms around data and ensuring that we can manage it effectively. In other words, we’ve really begun to start thinking about data quality. How do we measure it? How do we import it? How do we fix it? How do we coordinate investment? How do we coordinate activity? How do we have a consistent data management framework, data governance, data policies, and so on?

It’s about managing data as an asset. We have very clearly said that it is still a business responsibility and not about running technology that hosts data, which is an IT responsibility. Right now, we’re around nine months into the process.

PEX Network: Given your personal experience over the years, what process changes are required to drive data-led transformation?

David Grant: To my mind there are two key things. One is to actually link it to business requirements. I always stress the message that, at the end of the day, data is not there just because it's data. It's there to facilitate the business doing something, which means it has to drive value. This is critical because otherwise everyone just turns round and goes, "well, why are we spending all this money on data?" That's the first part.

The second part is very much a cultural change in driving the message within the organisation that data is a Group asset and not an asset of an individual business area. It's getting people to move away from simply delivering solutions to a particular problem, but in a way that is suboptimal for the Group, and actually trying to deliver some wider value. Ultimately, that is the cultural change needed in the organisation.

PEX Network: So with that in mind, how can an organisation successfully align people, process, culture and technology under its data plan, particularly as access to skills and resources can often be limited?

David Grant: There isn't an easy answer to it and the answer will be different in every organisation. You just need to understand the culture and the dynamics, how the organisation works, who the personalities are, and all these situational factors.

In our case it’s a combination of what I call bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up is we have lots of people in the organisation who have spent their careers dealing with data and actually do recognise the issue. So the first step is mobilising the bottom-up population. When I was appointed there were lots of people who were pleased because it showed that we're now treating data seriously. It highlighted the fact that we've got some very willing proponents there.

Top-down means understanding what ticks the boxes of the senior executives and effectively selling the case for serious data analysis. Outwardly, many banks are very much focused on cost-efficiency. If, for example, you can show that by managing and coordinating data better, you can take cost out, what you have is a very, very powerful message to convince them to come on board.

The final thing is that you do need a bit of a ‘stick’ approach. It’s vital here that we get approval to spend money, so what we're tying into that investment approval process is that we'll only sign things off from a data perspective if you follow the Group standards, you do it in a consistent way, and you actually add some value to the Group – rather than building a parochial solution.

PEX Network: Of course, one of the most important issues in this field today is leveraging Big Data. How can Big Data provide the most effective way for financial organisations to either engage with customers or increase revenue? What data strategies generally deliver the best ROI, and where are the common pitfalls?

David Grant: We've developed some prototype benchmarks. We go into a whole variety of different dimensions, all the way from characterising the number of errors, the data quality dimensions, the impacts on customers from data issues, and so on. They're all quite new, so we're experimenting with them as much in terms of behaviour to whether we can get the data to populate properly.

I actually come at it with a slightly sceptical view, which is to say that there has been a fantastic marketing hype to Big Data. It's important to actually decompose what we mean by the term. To my mind, it is clearly about large volumes of information, about innovative analytic tools, and about being able to make use of data that is less structured – whether it's social media, geo-locational data, or similar. Here at Lloyds, we have done Big Data for many, many years – before it was ever a fashionable term. We have one of the largest customer databases in the UK, and what we call a customer database, many other people would call a very large, Big Data solution.

So, where does it add value? Clearly, a lot of the case studies revolve around customer insight and getting a better understanding of your customers. The very powerful cases that we started to explore have been around how this can drive business efficiency by taking the views of customer journeys, cross-channels and things like that. Then it becomes quite a powerful resource for the risk and regulatory space.

There are lots of opportunities but it's important to look across a number of dimensions. Yes, it’s Big Data, but it’s just as much Big Analytics. The new types of analytics we can undertake with emerging technology is probably going to drive the most value.

PEX Network: How can CDOs stay one step ahead of the data innovation curve?

David Grant: By operationalizing it. You need to eventually do something with all that insight. There's no point in having fantastic data and analytics if you can't subsequently deliver benefit to your customers in terms of new products and services. This often takes us into the more challenging areas because it's fine having a nice, new Big Data platform, but when you’ve still got your old legacy systems, it can perhaps take 12 months to make any system changes on.

Another way is in recognising that you do need to allow people to experiment and you do need to take away the traditional, legacy-type environment where it takes three or four months to do anything. You just need to let people in, let them experiment, and then kill things off quickly if they don’t work. Of course, we have seen that there are a lot of people who like to call themselves data scientists these days, so we need to be careful that the right people are making these decisions.

I don’t think any of us have perfect data, so actually understanding it, knowing its limitations and how it works remains critical when it comes to adapting for the future.