How Nationwide is driving data-led cultural change

Profile picture for user Mark Samuels By Mark Samuels November 25, 2019
The building society’s Director of Business Intelligence gives his best-practice tips for getting cross-organisation buy-in for the implementation of a self-service approach.


Senior executives must take a multi-dimensional approach to cultural change if they want to create a successful data-led business transformation strategy.

That’s the opinion of Paul French, Director of Business Intelligence at Nationwide, who says that, while the data and technology side of transformation is hard enough, he actually believes that driving cultural change is the biggest barrier to embedding self-service data use across an organisation:

How do you get real adoption, so people start engaging and then they continue to engage with the solutions you deploy? How do you get people to move from a situation, where they’re very used to going into a specific management information system or going to data team to get an answer, to one where they’re wanting to be able to answer that question themselves, however good the technology is?

French says there are range of key dimensions to his cultural change programme at Nationwide. This programme accompanies the firm’s multi-million-pound data transformation initiative, which diginomica recently covered with Lee Raybould, the building society’s Chief Data Officer.

Employees across the business use Qlik analytics tools to increase the speed and efficiency of reporting. French estimates about 90%  of internal communities across the building society are now using Qlik apps in some shape or form. About 12 months previously, that number would have been about 25%. 

French says one of the dimensions that must be addressed in a cultural change initiative is education. He says Nationwide wants to encourage data self-service across the organisation but also recognises that it has a heritage of teams across the society building their own data solutions in their own silos. French says accreditation can help bring people together:

So one of the things that we're focused on creating is an accreditation programme that says, ‘If you’re a platinum-level Qlik expert, then we’ll allow you to do more with the tools and the data because you've been through the accreditation process and we know you understand both the technology and the strategy.

French says an important element of this accreditation process is what the organisation refers to as its explainer videos. One of the most successful videos covers the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR):

We took somebody out of the business – who wasn't a GDPR or data expert – and we talked to them about what GDPR is. We asked them to create a 60-second video explaining to the rest of the business what GDPR means. The fantastic thing is that, because it wasn’t a data practitioner trying to explain it, we had great feedback on how well it landed, how well it was interpreted and how well it was understood.


Another key dimension to cultural change is the ability to make data accessible to all. French says the organisation has been talking for a number of years about how it can create data marketplaces that bring together both data sources and consumable content. He expects technology to help, such as Qlik’s Data Catalyst, which is an enterprise-scale data repository:

I'm super excited by Data Catalyst because we've got huge amounts of data. And so we're going to definitely be looking at how we can make use of Data Catalyst, or something very similar, to create a data marketplace and a shopfront for our colleagues.

The Business Intelligence team has also tried to raise general awareness about the importance of data. It runs internal drop-in days where it showcases the technology it uses and talks about its data strategy. This approach helps to raise the data consciousness of employees across Nationwide. French says the building society has also attempted to educate its executives:

One of the things that we did in the early days was to run a number of full-day immersion sessions for our executive committee. We took them off site on couple of occasions. And we just really focused on the value you can derive from analytics, and the importance of good data quality and governance. That helped build their knowledge of the commercial value that we can drive for Nationwide and made them even stronger advocates.

Nationwide’s cultural change efforts aren’t just focused internally. French says the organisation is keen to create a data-practitioner community, particularly in south-west England, where the firm’s headquarters is located. To this end, French’s team recently ran a data expo in Swindon and has plans for more in the future:

We managed to get about 100 people – there was about 60 external and 40 internal – to engage in the topic of data. We were supported by Qlik and some of our other partners, and we’ve started to build out a network so that we can share knowledge both internally and externally.

French argues that firms looking to embed a data culture must also find the right operating model for their organisation. Nationwide has maintained quite a high degree of control around development within its data community, especially around QlikView Data (QVD), which are files containing data used for modelling:

All of our QVDs are filled out within the data community. And then we allow business users to consume those QVDs. We wanted to get quite a high level of governance and control initially around some of our data, given some of the challenges and problems we've had with silos in the past.

Finally, cultural change requires a strong narrative. In the case of Nationwide, data projects previously had a reputation of being slow, expensive and low on deliverables. French says one of the key challenges he faced early was to create new a storyline that helped to build his team’s credibility and start to change perception around what's possible with data:

We’ve just built our first current account app. It's delivering fantastic efficiency for that team, but it's also giving them some insight that they didn't know was there before. And they’re now internal advocates. Creating that kind of narrative is crucially important if you want to drive change.